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Why California is key to the next Congress

It’s primary day in the Golden State. And we think even more than New York, it’s the place you should be watching for control of the House next year.

Democrats are targeting the five California House Republicans who represent districts won by President Joe Biden. And California’s unique primary system — where the top two vote-getters in the state advance to the general election — makes it even more interesting.

The top four storylines to watch:

Valadao’s MAGA challenge

One of the most endangered Republican incumbents, Rep. David Valadao, is facing a GOP challenge from repeat MAGA candidate Chris Mathys. Mathys is campaigning against Valadao’s vote to impeach former President Donald Trump in 2021. Last cycle, Mathys came within thousands of votes of knocking off Valadao.

Republicans agree that if Valadao doesn’t advance to the general, there’s no chance the party can hang on to the Democratic-leaning seat, which Biden won by double digits in 2020. So the Congressional Leadership Fund is parachuting in with television ads to bash Mathys.

The Trump factor

Republicans in other tough seats — like Reps. John Duarte, Young Kim, Michelle Steel, Mike Garcia and Ken Calvert — also have to walk a fine line in November. Other than Calvert, each incumbent is in a district Biden won, presenting them with a two-pronged challenge.

“People hate Trump. And if you’re a Republican, you can’t excite the base if you don’t hug up on him,” Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) told us. “And you can’t keep the independents if you do hug up on him.”

Duarte, Garcia and Calvert have all indicated they will back former President Donald Trump. The other vulnerable members are keeping their distance and staying quiet in public.

The Senate battle

Most polls show Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) as the frontrunner in the primary. He’s won key endorsements from former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar.

Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee and Katie Porter are dueling for second place. But there’s also the wild card – Republican Steve Garvey crashing the party and sneaking into the general. Privately, some Democrats are hoping it’ll be Schiff v. Garvey in November.

The rematches

Valadao, Calvert and Duarte could all face rematches against the same Democrats they beat in 2022.

“Bring it on,” Duarte told us about a potential rematch with Adam Gray. Duarte argues he’s made inroads with minority communities in his district during his first term.

The DCCC is heavily backing Rudy Salas in Valadao’s district and is already running joint ads with the candidate early in the cycle. In Calvert’s district, Democrat Will Rollins is outraising the incumbent. This is another top target for the DCCC, despite Trump winning the seat in 2020.

The GOP sees the rematches as boons for their incumbents. NRCC spokesperson Ben Petersen even labeled the challengers “failed retread candidates.”

— Max Cohen and Mica Soellner

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.