California congressional races provide opportunities to defeat MAGA
Rep. Michelle Steel

As we move toward the 2024 general election, the people’s movement to defeat far-right candidates up and down the ballot is gaining momentum and greater focus. A particular focus is on hotly contested Congressional seats that may determine control of the House of Representatives. Among these priority races are “purple districts,” where President Biden won the most votes in the district in the 2020 election, but a Republican won the House seat. Let’s look at two more of these, following up on three we discussed earlier.

California’s 45th Congressional District

One of these critical districts is California’s 45th Congressional District. The district is south of Los Angeles in Orange County. It is an Asian-majority district with an area called “Little Saigon,” which has a large population of Vietnamese Americans, and another called “Little India,” with large Korean and Chinese American populations as well. This diversity makes the district a dynamic battleground in the fight for the increasingly influential Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) voting bloc in California.

Republican incumbent Rep. Michelle Steel won her seat in 2020 by 4.8% points, while Biden won the district by 5 points. Since that race, the district was redistricted based on the 2020 census and is now considered California’s most competitive in the 2024 election cycle. The district is considered “Lean Republican” by the Cook Political Report, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) recently added it to their national priority “Red to Blue” list.

Rep. Steel’s family immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea when she was young, and she is one of the first Korean Americans to serve in Congress. Steel has served on the State of California’s Board of Equalization and the Orange County Board of Supervisors. Steel serves on the House Select Committee on the “Chinese Communist Party (CCP)” and has made anti-communism and anti-Chinese communism, specifically, a central campaign issue. In her 2020 campaign, some charged her with “red-baiting” after she sent out mailers with a photoshopped image of her then-Democratic rival Jay Chen holding the Communist Manifesto.

Her campaign website says she stands for both “an America that challenges the Chinese Communist Party and a secure border.” During the recent primary, she issued a statement saying, “Southern California voters deserve to know if the Democrats running in CA-45 are going to continue sticking by their far-left radical allies or are they going to stand up for Israel and against those who seek to destroy it.”

Rep. Steel was listed as a Trump delegate in the recent California presidential primary. Still, when asked by POLITICO if she has endorsed Trump, “her office didn’t respond to at least four calls and emails spanning six weeks requesting comment on a Trump endorsement. When approached by a POLITICO reporter at the Capitol last week, she promptly darted away.”

Democrat Derek Tran

Steel will face Democrat Derek Tran in November, who won the primary against his Democratic opponent with just 366 votes. Tran is a first-time candidate, but he exceeded all expectations by winning the primary against his opponent, who had the full support of the Democratic Party establishment.

Tran’s campaign website describes him as “an army veteran, consumer rights attorney, city commissioner, and small business owner running for Congress to fight for Californians, not corporations in Congress.” He will focus on the need to “reduce the costs of prescription drugs, protect a woman’s right to choose, and expand coverage because healthcare is a right, not a privilege.”

In a statement issued after winning the Primary, Tran said, “If given another term, Michelle Steel will continue putting her far-right politics first, enabling the chaos and dysfunction of her party, and voting against the interests of middle-class Californians. We can’t afford her failed leadership any longer, and that’s why I’m ready to fight back.”

California’s 13th Congressional District

California’s 13th Congressional District is also up for grabs in 2024. This district in California’s San Joaquin Valley in Merced County, west of Fresno, was redistricted after the 2020 census and is now considered much more competitive. It is one of 20 U.S. House districts across the country that Republicans are defending, where Joe Biden won in 2020.

Democrats have a 14-point registration advantage in the 13th district. It has been placed on the DCCC “Red to Blue”  list, prioritizing regaining a majority in the House. Daily Kos has ranked the district as number one in its national House Vulnerability Index rating. The Cook Political Report lists the district as a “Republican toss-up” in 2024, and Democrats ought to be able to put their favorable party registration to advantage.

Before redistricting, this was the 12th District, represented by Rep. Barbara Lee, who won the district in 2020 by 80.8 points over her Republican opponent. In 2022, after redistricting, Republican John Duarte won the seat over Democrat Adam Gray by less than half a percentage point (564 votes).

The 2024 contest will once again pit Duarte against Gray.

Democrat Adam Gray

Democrat Adam Gray was elected to the State Assembly in 2012, representing Merced County and Stanislaus County for a decade. A host of elected Democratic leaders endorse Gray, along with the California Labor Federation, the North Valley Labor Federation, Equality California, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and many other organizations and local officials.

The Gray campaign says he “helped secure $220 million into the state budget to fund the UC Merced medical arts building, which will break ground in the spring. He also organized a rally that brought 1500 farmers, students, business owners, and food workers to the steps of the state capitol to demonstrate for water conservation. Gray also pointed out that he helped secure $40 million to restore wetlands, including projects that helped save many communities from flooding last year.”

When interviewed by the Sacramento Bee on his position on reproductive freedom, Gray said, “Women have a right to control their own bodies. Congress should guarantee the right to access abortion and contraception nationwide. Roe v. Wade must become the law of the land, just as it was for years. Only the Congress can make that happen, and I will vote to do that. John Duarte won’t.”

Gray said, “I support comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to permanent residence and citizenship. I will fight to protect DREAMers by reauthorizing and expanding DACA. I’ll advocate for policies so law-abiding immigrant families don’t live in fear that mom or dad won’t come home at night because they were deported.”

Republican incumbent Duarte

Republican incumbent Duarte is a businessman and farmer whose family has farmed in the Valley for four generations and grows almonds, pistachios, and grapes today.

After winning in 2022, Duarte said, “Families and farmers up and down our Valley are fed up with the radical Biden-Pelosi agenda which my opponent Adam Gray supports…liberal politicians are completely out of touch with working families and what they are dealing with. We are taking our campaign to every corner and to every voter in this district.” He doesn’t explain how, if voters feel that way, they gave their vote to Biden over Trump in 2020.

Duarte has voted in favor of impeachment proceedings against President Biden, voted to support H.R. 6126 to provide additional military aid to Israel, and voted in favor of Mike Johnson for Speaker of the House, who the Congressional Freethought Caucus says is “connected in political practice and philosophy to Christian Nationalism, more so than any other speaker in American history.”

On the issues of reproductive rights, Duarte says he is “opposed to all efforts to federalize abortion law.” On the issue of immigration, he supports the Dignity Act, which would invest heavily in border security but also grant legal status to undocumented immigrants already living in the United States with the possibility of earning citizenship.

In their joint endorsement of Adam Gray, the Modesto Bee and Fresno Bee Editorial Boards wrote, “Without even a full term in Congress under his belt, Duarte has already managed to disappoint the Central Valley time and time again.” He is “strongly aligned with Donald Trump and backing House GOP culture-war bills.”

Progressive-thinking Americans shouldn’t have to ponder too hard and long about why some of President Biden’s agenda on climate change, infrastructure, labor support, human rights, budget, etc., has not advanced more quickly. The answer is in the House, which has stymied progress every inch of the way. How about committing some effort between now and November toward getting the President a Democratic House to work with? Californians hold that key in their hands if they will only use it.

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Richard Green
Richard Green

Richard Green is co-chair of the Southern California Communist Party USA and a member of the national CPUSA's Political Action Commission. Richard is an active member in a number of local groups working on issues of political action, peace, affordable housing, and support for organized labor and workers' rights.