Democratic state assemblywoman Christy Smith and Republican former Navy pilot Mike Garcia appear set to advance to a runoff election to determine who will fill the open congressional seat vacated last year by former Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.), partial election returns suggest.
Former Republican Rep. Steve Knight, who lost his congressional seat to Hill in 2018, is currently in third place. Smith and Garcia are on track to compete in a special election runoff in May to select the candidate who will fill the seat for the rest of the year. The pair will face off again in November in a fight for the seat for next two years.
California’s 25th, a swing district split across northern Los Angeles and eastern Ventura counties, went blue for the first time in decades in when Hill pulled off a surprising 9-point victory over Knight, the Republican incumbent at the time. Despite running in a purple district, Hill campaigned on progressive issues — including “Medicare for All” — and became a high-profile first-term member of the House.
Less than a year into her time in office, a conservative news site published nude pictures of Hill without her consent — allegedly with help from Hill’s estranged ex-husband. The authors of the article, who were former advisers to Knight, also exposed Hill’s sexual relationship with a campaign staffer. Hill resigned shortly after. The sudden loss of a progressive member of Congress in a recently flipped district threw the race into the national spotlight.
Garcia had already entered the race, planning to run against Hill. When she decided to resign, Hill personally recruited Smith, whose state assembly district overlaps with much of California’s 25th Congressional District. Knight, who had said he didn’t plan to run, jumped in the race to win his old seat back days later. Between the special election and the 2020 race, there were 14 candidates total in the running — including fringe contenders like former Trump aide George Papadopoulos, who served 12 days in prison for lying to the FBI. Garcia vastly outraised Knight and secured support from the LA and Ventura county Republican parties.
Smith quickly attracted endorsements from California’s Democratic Party and a slew of Democratic politicians and progressive organizations. But she also faced a high-profile challenge from left from Cenk Uygur, the founder and host of the progressive news site The Young Turks.
Uygur portrayed himself as the progressive alternative to Smith, whom he accused of being an establishment Democrat. Although the two candidates are aligned on many policies, Uygur highlighted the fact that Smith did not back Medicare for All and and her initial failure to pledge not to take any corporate PAC money. (Her campaign announced about one month before the election that her congressional campaign would not rely on any corporate PAC money). Whereas Smith touted her pragmatism and ability to reach bipartisan compromise, Uygur promised voters he would fight to defeat Republicans so that progressives would be able to pass legislation without them.
Despite the popularity of Uygur’s TYT show and the issues he campaigned on, he failed to achieve significant support in Tuesday’s primary. His poor performance is likely due to several factors: He didn’t live in the district, he has a history of making offensive comments, and the Democratic Party made a concerted effort to hamper his campaign. One week before Super Tuesday, Uygur suffered a self-inflicted blow when HuffPost reported that the progressive star urged his own staff not to unionize.
This story has been updated to reflect that Smith pledged in late January not to take any corporate PAC money. She stopped short of doing so earlier in the campaign because she did not believe in “litmus tests,” her deputy campaign manager said at the time.