Republicans Work Things Out in 3 California House Districts Rep. Michelle Steel, R-Calif., at a House Republican caucus news conference at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center on Oct. 20, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
A little over a week since the new lines for California’s 52 U.S. House districts — down from 53 since the Census last year — were drawn by an "independent citizens’ commission," Republicans in populous Orange County (Southern California) seemed to have been dealt an inarguably hostile redrawing of the lines of three districts.
Evidence is strong that freshman Rep. Michelle Steel was the premier target of the redistricting knife. Last year, Republican Steel made national news in ousting freshman Democrat Rep. Harley Rouda and thus becoming the first Korean-American woman in Congress — not to mention the first Republican to unseat a Democrat congressman in California since 1994.
Under the new lines, Steel’s coastal 48th District now includes strongly Democrat swatches from Irvine and Costa Mesa that previously belonged in the 45th District of liberal Democratic Rep. Katie Porter.
But Steel plans to seek reelection from the new 45th District, which has a roughly 40% population of Asian-American voters. Of the Asian-Americans, 80% are either of Korean or Vietnamese heritage — both historically Republican blocs.
"We feel good about the district, but it will be a battleground," Shawn Steel, California Republican National Committeeman and Michelle’s husband, told Newsmax, noting that Democrats still have a small (3.7%) registration edge in the new 45th.
Democrat Rep. Porter has announced she will run in the new 47th District, which has roughly a 1% Democrat registration edge and in which two-thirds of the voters have never voted for Porter before.
The freshman congresswoman does have $15 million in her campaign kitty, supporters note.
But Republicans are not giving Porter a free shot at it. Stalwart conservative Scott Baugh, former Orange County GOP chairman and state assembly GOP leader, recently announced he would run against Porter.
In 2018, Baugh came within 2% of overtaking then-Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in the old 48th and thus getting into the November run-off against Democrat Rouda. (Under Golden State election law, all candidates appear on the same primary ballot and the two top vote-getters regardless of party compete in November.) Rouda went on to unseat Rohrabacher in a campaign that hit hard at the Republican congressman’s spirited defense of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.
"Congresswoman Porter is a poor fit for Orange County," Jon Fleischman, editor of the online Flash Report on California politics, told Newsmax. "The far-left politics of this Elizabeth Warren acolyte make her very vulnerable. Baugh, a constitutional conservative, a proven fundraiser, will be a tough challenge for Porter."
Another conservative Republican, freshman Rep. Young Kim, announced she would run in the new 40th District rather than her present 39th. The new 40th includes Republican turf from her old district as well as new Republican turf in East Orange County. Her reelection bid, however, is sure to be hotly contested by Democrats.
Since she was declared a winner after Steel in 2020, Young is considered the second Korean-American woman to serve in Congress.
Along with being close political allies, both Steel and Kim are lifelong friends who knew each other growing up in Seoul.