In California, Democrats enjoy a considerable advantage in both houses of the legislature, having attained a supermajority in many years since the adoption of the top-two primary system. This allows Democrats to have an unfettered advantage of passing legislation favorable to their party’s interests. In 2022, redistricting provided a glimmer of hope for Republicans in the California State Senate, where they had a path at breaking the Democratic supermajority, rendering it necessary for Democrats to consult with Republicans on legislation before passing it.
The California State Senate is comprised of 40 Senate Districts, each with more population than a single federal House district. There are also some districts that were not up for re-election in 2022, as the California State Senate has a staggered system where only half of the districts are up for re-election in a given election year. The California State Senate is mostly home to uncompetitive districts, but there remain a handful number of competitive districts that decide whether Democrats have a supermajority in the chamber. This article will only focus on races that were competitive.
District Table and Map
|District||GOP Votes||DEM Votes||Total||RPCT||DCPT|
|Margin||D +1,376,217||D +27.38%|
The 6th Senate District of California, which is in the Sacramento suburbs and part of Placer County, is a narrowly Republican-leaning district that includes several communities. Roger Niello, a prior member of the State Assembly, ran to replace term-limited Jim Nielsen of the prior iteration of the district when it was numbered as the fourth. In the top-two primary, Niello ran against two other candidates: another Republican, Michael Huang, and Paula Villescaz, a Democrat. In the top-two primary, Villescaz finished with 43.1% of the vote, while Niello and Huang came in second and third place with 42.8% and 14.1% of the vote, respectively. The Republican primary vote totaled around 56.9% of the vote, with the Democratic candidate taking 43.1%.
In the general election, Niello took a 205,569–160,846 vote victory, or a margin or 55.7%-44.3%. He was able to do this by outpolling Villescaz in both counties that make up the district, winning by a 60%-40% margin in Placer County and carrying the Sacramento County portion by just over 12,000 votes. Overall, he won by a margin of 41,723 votes and by 11.4%.
The 14th State Senate district includes parts of Fresno, Madera, Merced, and Tulare counties, with the population base being in Fresno. The 14th is a Democratic-leaning district, and Democrats enjoy a heavy advantage in Fresno and Merced counties. However, the turnout dynamics with the Central Valley apply here, as Democratic-leaning voters do not turn out in substantial numbers in midterm years. Incumbent Anna Caballero (D) ran for re-election in the 14th State Senate district, displacing incumbent State Senator Melissa Hurtado (D) who ran in the 16th State Senate District instead. In the top-two primary, Caballero faced off against two other candidates: Amnon Shor, a Republican who is also a rabbi, and Paulina Miranda, another Democratic candidate. Caballero finished with 52.0%, while Short finished with 41.9% and Miranda finished with 6.1%. Added together, the Democratic candidates combined for 58.1% of the primary vote, while the Republican candidate garnered 41.9%.
In the general election, Caballero achieved a 56.3%-43.7% victory over Shor. This was made possible by her nearly 20-point margin in Fresno, which provided more than her winning margin. She also won the portion of Merced County by a five-point margin, while Shor only carried the portion of Madera y just over 500 votes. The district’s portion of Tulare County, with only one registered voter, did not cast any votes.
The 16th State Senate district encompasses parts of Fresno, Kern, Kings, and Tulare counties, with the most vote-rich county being Kern County. The 14th is a Democratic leaning district, although as is typical in the more marginal political districts in the state, there are many voters unaffiliated with a political party within the district. As with the 14th, the turnout dynamics also apply, as Democratic leaning voters are less likely to turn out in midterm election years.
In 2022, the Democratic incumbent from the 14th Senate district, Melissa Hurtado, ran for re-election in this district against four other candidates: Bryan Osorio, another Democratic candidate who represented the town of Delano as their mayor, Nicole Parra, a prior assemblymember from the 30th district, David Shepard, a Republican who worked as a farmer, and Gregory Tatum, a Republican who is a pastor in the district. Shepard finished as the top vote-getter in the top-two primary with 43.4%, while Hurtado secured the second general election slot with 29.6%. The other candidates garnered the remaining votes. When all totals for the Democratic candidates were added, they achieved 36,427 votes, or 48.6% of the vote, while the Republican candidates secured 38,595 votes, or 51.4% of the vote.
In the general election, the race between Hurtado and Shepard came down to the wire, as a recount was ordered after the election. When all the votes were re-counted, Hurtado won an improssibly narrow margin of 22 votes. Hurtado was able to win the district because of her larger margin of victory in Kern County, which she carried by 9,969 votes. Shepard won the parts of the other three counties: 3,080 votes in Fresno (a 53.2% margin), 5,131 votes in Kinds (a 19.2% margin), and 2,736 votes in Tulare (a 6.4% margin).
The 38th State Senate District encompasses portions of San Diego’s North County and parts of southern Orange County. This is a moderately Democratic leaning district, but is much more Republican down-ballot, as until recently, Republican down-ballot candidates had been able to win in this area at the federal and state levels. The population base in the 38th is San Diego, with much of northern San Diego County providing Democrats with a large advantage. The portion of Orange County, while not as populated as the San Diego portion, provides Republicans with a smaller but consistently Republican vote advantage. In short, the battle for the district is a battle of the portions of both counties, with the election being decided by the level of turnout of Democrats in the San Diego portion.
In 2022, the district was host to an open-seat race, as incumbent Republican Patricia Bates was term limited and therefore could not run for re-election in the district. In the top-two primary, Democratic Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear ran against Matt Gunderson, the Republican candidate, and another Democrat, Joe Kerr, a former firefighter captain. Gunderson placed first in the primary with 45.9% of the primary vot, while Blakespear finished second with 42.9% of the vote. Kerr finished in third with 11.2%. However, the Democratic candidates combined for 54.1% overall.
In the general election, Blakespear won by a 4.4% margin. She did this by running ahead of Gunderson in San Diego, winning that portion by over 12%. While this is a smaller margin than Gunderson’s 15% margin in Orange County, the San Diego portion is more populated overall.
The 40th State Senate District is an extremely competitive battleground district; registered Democrats possess only 4,081-vote edge over Republicans as of the November election. It is comprised entirely within San Diego County. The district would be expected to be decided by very narrow margins.
In 2022, incumbent Brian Jones, a Republican who formerly represented the 38th district, ran for re-election in the 40th district against Joseph Rocha, an attorney and Marine Corps veteran. In the primary, only the two candidates ran: Jones received 113,400 votes (or 54.4% of the vote), while Rocha received 94,960 votes (or 45.6% of the vote). Both candidates advanced to the general election.
In the general election, Jones won re-election 53.1.% to 46.9%. This was only 1.3 points behind his primary performance against Rocha; general elections in California often tend slightly more Democratic than primaries.
The California Republican Party did not break the Democratic supermajority in the State Senate in 2022. In fact, they lost a seat bringing their total number of seats in the 40-seat chamber down to eight from nine. While this result was a slight fluke – the district they lost was a Democrat vs. Democrat lockout despite a Republican lead in the popular vote – it’s yet another decline in legislative power for the party.
In 2024, it does not look as though Republicans will have a chance to break the supermajority, as most districts up for election will be Democratic-leaning. It also does not help Republicans that the Democratic presidential candidate is certain to win the state, making his or her coattails formidable.