The votes have been counted in the key race to take the seat of Katie Hill

CAMARILLO, Calif. — Republican Mike Garcia took a decisive lead over Democrat Christy Smith in a nationally-monitored special election on Tuesday to win a seat in a California congressional district that both parties consider their turf.

With 139,245 votes counted in an election conducted almost entirely by mail due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Garcia held 56% of the vote and Smith won 44% of the vote.

The first returns represent postal ballots. More than 420,000 ballots have been mailed to voters in the two counties in the district and some may still arrive later in the week as long as they are postmarked Tuesday.

The winner fills a seat left vacant in November when Democrat Katie Hill resigned amid allegations of inappropriate dealings with staffers. The mandate expires in January.

Garcia, the former Navy fighter pilot, and Santa Clarita’s Smith Assembly will square off again Nov. 3 for a full two-year term. The 25th District stretches from Santa Clarita to Simi Valley with approximately 70,000 registered voters in Ventura County and more than 350,000 in Los Angeles County.

It’s been a so-called rotating district held by Republicans since 1993 until Hill claimed it for Democrats in 2018. If Garcia wins, it would be the first California congressional seat passed from Democrats to Republicans in 22 years.

The battle caught the eye of some of the biggest names on both sides. President Donald Trump endorsed Garcia and criticized Smith in tweets, also calling the last-minute addition of an in-person polling place in Lancaster an attempt by Democrats to rig the election.

Smith, in one of multiple tweets aimed at Trump, said the extra polling place was backed by the mayor of Lancaster, who is a Republican, and was meant to give more people a chance to vote in a community where the majority of residents are African American and Latino. .

She was backed by former President Barack Obama and Trump’s defeated 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton.

Garcia, who flew combat missions in Iraq, built a career in aerospace, including 10 years at Raytheon. In his first run for public office, he campaigned for tax cuts, congressional term limits, protection of national security, and prevention of the emergence of liberal California politics in the US. national scale.

“I don’t want my nation to become what this state has become, which is a victim of bad policy and bad execution,” he said during a virtual debate with Smith in April.

Two years ago, Smith won the election for the 38th Assembly District, beating Republican incumbent Dante Acosta. Prior to that, she served for nine years on the Newhall School Board.

“I have 10 years of proven results in this community,” she said during the debate, emphasizing a collective conversations approach that engages all corners of the communities she represents. “Everyone take a seat at the table.”

She campaigned to improve education, end corruption in the federal government, and use a public insurance option to make health care more affordable.

A high-profile election has changed dramatically with the emergence of COVID-19. In March, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered election officials in Ventura and Los Angeles counties to mail ballots to every registered voter.

Ventura County election officials reported Tuesday afternoon that about 33,000 people had voted by mail so far. In Los Angeles County, about 104,000 of more than 350,000 registered voters voted by mail Monday.

State officials have also demanded in-person voting options for unregistered voters and others who cannot or do not want to vote by mail. At the two Ventura County sites, both in Simi, turnout was light with 213 people voting at 1:30 p.m. More than half a dozen sites have been set up in Los Angeles County.

Some people voted from their vehicles after receiving ballots from election workers wearing masks and gloves. Others used a computer touch screen that was cleaned after each use.

Some observers present the race as a taste of the electoral battles which will be decided in November. CSU Channel Islands political scientist Tim Allison believes any message sent has been altered by the pandemic.

“It’s more of a referendum on whether people pay attention to politics with everything that’s going on in their lives,” he said. “People are trying to figure out how to homeschool their kids. They’re trying to figure out where their next paycheck is. … We’re in a very different scenario, a very different world.”

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