Republican Mike Garcia defeated Democrat Christy Smith in Tuesday’s special election for a vacant congressional seat in a swing district in the Los Angeles suburbs.
Garcia, a defense industry executive, and Smith, a state assembly member, were competing to replace former Rep. Katie Hill, a Democrat who resigned last year amid a scandal. Garcia will complete the rest of Hill’s term and will face Smith again in November in a general election for the term that begins in January 2021.
Although votes are still being counted, Smith conceded on Wednesday.
“While it’s critical that we ensure every vote is counted and recorded, we believe that the current tally shows Mike Garcia is the likely victor in the May 12th special election,” Smith said in a statement. “As such, I’d like to congratulate him.”
Before her resignation, Hill was a progressive hero in California’s 25th District. Despite running in a district long held by conservative men, she centered her 2018 campaign around progressive issues, including Medicare for All.
But less than a year into her term, a conservative news site published nude pictures of Hill without her consent and exposed her affair with a campaign aide. The main authors of the articles were former campaign advisers to Steven Knight, the Republican incumbent Hill defeated in 2018.
After stepping down, Hill recruited Smith, whose state assembly district overlaps with much of the congressional district, to run to replace her. Smith received the most votes in the jungle primary, crushing her main Democratic rival Cenk Uygur, founder of The Young Turks, who portrayed Smith as an establishment centrist. Garcia, who came in second in the primary, split most of the Republican vote with Knight.
The race, the first special election during the coronavirus pandemic, quickly took on national significance. Smith was endorsed by former President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Garcia received endorsements from President Donald Trump, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)
Because of health risks associated with in-person voting during the coronavirus crisis, all 25th District voters were sent mail-in ballots. There were also a handful of in-person voting centers.
Days before the election, Trump accused Democrats of “trying to steal another election” after the party secured an in-person voting center in a minority-majority part of the district that wasn’t initially set to have that option. “These votes must not count. SCAM!” Trump tweeted.
With a large number of mail-in votes, it will take days to confirm the final results.
The earliest vote count showed Garcia with a large lead, and Trump declared Republican victory the morning after the election ― even before all of the mail-in ballots were received.
Garcia’s campaign put out a press release the same day stating: “Election results make Garcia victory clear.”
When Democrats pointed out that it was far too early to be sure which candidate would win, far-right propagandists suggested that if later votes showed a Democratic victory, it would be because of voter fraud.
This kind of disinformation is likely a preview of what is to come in November’s presidential election, which is expected to have a dramatic increase in the number of mail-in votes because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the special election loss, Democrats are hoping Smith has a better chance of winning the general election in November, when there will be a larger voter turnout and a greater focus on Trump, who is unpopular in the district.