Close race in LA suburbs could hold key to Congressional control

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As for abortion, she’s not so much in favor of it as believing it’s a personal choice.

“Everyone’s circumstances are different,” Ibarra said. “And every woman should be free to make her own choices when it comes to her body.”

She agrees with two-thirds of California Latinos — and three-quarters of California women — who support protecting abortion rights, according to a recent poll by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies.

Karen Díaz, deputy director of civic engagement at CHIRLA, said that unlike most political campaigns that focus on attracting reliable voters, her group is working to build a voter base from the ground up.

“We are focusing on voters who have only voted in one of the last five elections,” she said. “People who have just become new citizens. People who have just turned 18. This is our voter base.”

CHIRLA campaigner Nancy Zaragoza knocks on a door in Palmdale September 21, 2022 to rally immigrant voters to the midterm elections. (Tyche Hendricks/KQED)

A central district

National political parties are also investing energy in this race.

The Democratic Party’s campaign committee has enrolled Smith in its Red to Blue program, opening a field office in the district and providing organizational and financial support to her, said Madison Mundy, a DCCC spokeswoman.

Smith raised nearly $1.7 million in the three months ended Sept. 30, making her one of the nation’s leading fundraisers for the quarter among the House of Representatives’ Democratic challengers. That brings Smith’s total fundraising to $3 million, according to filings with the Federal Elections Commission.

Since then, Garcia has raised twice that — over $6 million in this election so far, according to the FEC — and he’s benefited from hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by independent spending committees.

The Republican National Committee is also based in the district, with a campaign office focused on Latino voters. On an evening in late September, volunteers made calls in Spanish and English to Republican households in the Palmdale mall storefront.

“What would you say is the biggest problem facing our country?” José Alanís, regional field director for the California Republican Party, asked a voter in Spanish. “The economy? Certainly.”

Republicans have gained significant ground among Latino voters nationally since the last midterm election, according to a poll by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. And the GOP hopes to repeat that in this race.

A man sits at a desk in front of a computer with signs for Mike Garcia hanging behind him.
José Alanís, regional field director of the California Republican Party, calls Spanish-speaking voters from the Republican National Committee campaign office in Palmdale on September 20, 2022. (Tyche Hendricks/KQED)

“Latino voters perceive Republicans as less hostile compared to 2018, and Republican outreach to Latino voters is at its highest level in our five weeks of polling,” said Arturo Vargas, CEO of the NALEO Educational Fund.

But in California, three-fourths of the state’s likely Latino voters prefer the Democratic nominee for Congress in their district, according to a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Both polls found that the rising cost of living is a top concern for Latino voters.

That goes for Lulu Vega, 70, who sells used home goods. She said her grocery bills have skyrocketed and since she’s living on Social Security, it’s difficult to make ends meet.

“We’re in a really deep problem,” Vega said a recent morning at the Santa Clarita Swap Meet, where she was setting up her booth. “I was against Trump, but when Trump was in charge, the economy was nice. Now? It’s really, really hard.”

But Vega said she usually only votes in presidential elections and doesn’t plan to vote this year because she hasn’t followed the candidates or the issues.

Competing priorities: abortion and the economy

At a Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce gathering in late September to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, economic concerns were not a driving force. There, in a historic mud house in a leafy park, Latino businessmen drank over tacos and drinks and conversed with elected officials.

Winery owner Robert Reyes said he is a conservative Christian and will vote for Mike Garcia because he likes his values.

“He’s a hard worker, someone who really puts his heart into what he does,” Reyes said. “I love that about him.”

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