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A key congressional rematch in California draws nationwide attention

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

A handful of close House races in California could play a key role in which party controls Congress after the midterms. We're going to hear about one of those races in a district near LA. Last election, it went Republican by just over 300 votes. Now with redistricting, his Democratic challenger thinks she has a real shot. Here's Tyche Hendricks from member station KQED.

TYCHE HENDRICKS, BYLINE: Two years ago, Democrat Christy Smith lost to Congressman Mike Garcia. This time around, the former state assemblywoman is focusing on abortion rights. She talks about her own high-risk pregnancies in a campaign ad.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

CHRISTY SMITH: But the only people who had a right to be involved in that decision were me, my doctor and my God.

(CHEERING)

HENDRICKS: Smith hopes the overturning of Roe v. Wade will motivate enough voters to make the difference. In this district which combines affluent Santa Clarita and the working-class Antelope Valley, a third of the voters are Latino. One is Marielena Ibarra, who says she's not exactly in favor of abortion.

MARIELENA IBARRA: (Speaking Spanish).

HENDRICKS: But she says everyone's circumstances are different, and every woman should be free to make her own decisions. Ibarra is a canvasser with CHIRLA, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hello.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

IBARRA: (Speaking Spanish).

HENDRICKS: On this day, they're going door to door in Latino neighborhoods in Palmdale.

KAREN DIAZ: Well, we'd just like to remind you because those elections are going to be really important. Maybe we...

HENDRICKS: CHIRLA's Action Fund has endorsed Democrat Christy Smith. And canvass director Karen Diaz says engaging new voters is key to winning support for policies that benefit immigrant communities.

DIAZ: We focus on voters that have only voted 1 out of the last 5 elections, people who just became new citizens, people who just turned 18 years old.

HENDRICKS: While Latinos in California usually vote Democratic, here the Republican's Mexican heritage could complicate their choice, says Fernando Guerra, a political science professor at Loyola Marymount University. And, he says, given the steeper odds in other races, Democrats need to flip this seat.

FERNANDO GUERRA: If they lose this district, there is no way that Democrats can keep the House. That is the bottom line.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

HENDRICKS: At a Republican National Committee campaign office in a strip mall, volunteers are calling Latino voters on behalf of Mike Garcia. Director Bryan Anguiano says inflation is top of mind.

BRYAN ANGUIANO: They're proud of their representative who understands the issues that affect the middle class, specifically the Hispanic community.

HENDRICKS: In Congress, Garcia has been a strong Trump ally. He voted not to certify President Biden's victory, and he supports a nationwide abortion ban. But his ads focus more on patriotism.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

MIKE GARCIA: I flew fighter jets in the U.S. Navy to protect the American dream and to ensure our prosperity and our liberties.

HENDRICKS: Liberty and prosperity resonate with some at a recent Chamber of Commerce Hispanic Heritage celebration. Winery owner Robert Reyes says he's a conservative Christian, and he'll vote for Garcia.

ROBERT REYES: He is a hard worker, somebody who really puts his heart into what he does. So that's what I love about him.

HENDRICKS: In this razor-close contest, every vote is pivotal, as ballots are arriving in the mail.

For NPR News, I'm Tyche Hendricks in Santa Clarita. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tyche Hendricks