State Assembly Races

California Democrats hit an apex in 2018 when they won three-quarters of seats — “gigamajorities” — in the state Legislature. Two years later, Republicans aim to reverse that trend. But in a state shifting ever bluer — and in a presidential election year sure to generate high turnout — Democrats intend to push their high water-mark even higher. 

And while California’s larger legislative chamber, the Assembly, is dominated by Democrats —  61 to the GOP’s 17, plus one independent — party identification only counts for so much here. This is also home to California’s “mod squad,” a loose confederation of Democrats who regularly torpedo the plans of the party’s progressive base. Even if Republicans win every one of their target seats in this election, Democrats will retain a commanding supermajority. At stake in the 11 competitive races highlighted below: what that supermajority will look like.

— By Ben Christopher

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Information on the candidates, news, the stakes, and endorsements on all the California districts that are on the November 2020 ballot are listed here.



When the national housing market imploded in 2008, it collapsed especially hard upon Stockton, which went bankrupt. In the years since, the area has been on the receiving end of another kind of housing crisis. Working-class and middle-class families fleeing the Bay Area in search of cheaper living have swelled the populations of Tracy and Stockton.

Of all Central Valley districts, this is the most urban. Local debates place gun violence and homelessness over the more traditional Valley fare of agriculture and water. It’s also one of the most Democratic: Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump here by over 30 points. 



These two Democrats represent the progressive and moderate factions of their party. But Stockton politics is complicated. That rift could just as easily be described as pro- and anti-Michael Tubbs, Stockton’s 30-year-old mayor. 

Democrat - Kathy Miller

Miller is a progressive San Joaquin County Supervisor who has the backing of Tubbs, along with incumbent Assemblymember Susan Eggman and the California Democratic Party. Despite the heavy hitters behind her, Miller is going into November at an electoral disadvantage: In the March primary, her two more moderate opponents won 68% of the vote.

Democrat - Carlos Villapudua

The top primary vote-getter, Villapudua hails from the more business-friendly wing of the party. He’s a former San Joaquin County supervisor who unsuccessfully ran against Tubbs for mayor in 2016 and against Eggman for this Assembly seat two years later. His endorsers include Democratic Assemblymember Jim Cooper, a former sheriff, and criminal justice hawk, and San Joaquin County Supervisor Leroy Ornellas, a Republican. During the primary Villapudua was one of the biggest beneficiaries of political spending by the state oil and gas industry. 


Since 2012, this district has been represented by Eggman, a rare Central Valley progressive. While most of her Democratic colleagues from the region have skewed friendly to Big Ag and tough on criminal justice, her legislating reflects the fact that most of the district is, in fact, a city.

But with no Republican in the race, Villapudua and his coalition of moderate Democrats, Republicans, and business groups are hoping to tug the seatback to the political center. 



  • Democratic Assemblymember Susan Eggman

  • Democratic Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs


  • Democratic Assemblymember Jim Cooper

  • Republican San Joaquin County Supervisor Leroy Ornellas

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This is the last of a dying breed: a Republican district with the oceanfront property. Tracing the 101 from Lompoc to Paso Robles, this stretch of the Central Coast is more rural, agricultural, and conservative than Santa Barbara to the south or Monterey to the north. 

But the district’s eclectic mix — farm fields and vineyards, a college town and an Air Force base, sleepy surf towns and exurban sprawl — makes for local politics that averages out to moderate. 



The Republican incumbent crushed his Democratic rival in the March primary, but that 14-point lead may be deceiving. With no one else in the running, neither candidate did much campaigning. Now that the phone banking and ad spending has begun, the race is on.

Republican - Jordan Cunningham

On paper, the incumbent assemblymember ought to be vulnerable. His purple district is trending blue. He’s a member of President Trump’s party in a district Trump lost by 6 points.

But Cunningham, now seeking a third term, hews to the center and touts his bipartisan bonafide. He broke with his party on state climate policies and predatory loan restrictions and bucked business interests by backing pro-privacy regulations. He is the only California Republican running for a legislative or congressional seat with the endorsement of the California Teachers Association.

Democrat - Dawn Addis

A councilmember from the dune-bound beach community of Morro Bay, Addis helped organize the San Luis Obispo Women’s March after the election of President Trump, before making her first run for office. In other words, she’s emerged from a movement of ticked-off left-of-center women who powered the Democratic blue wave in 2018. 

As a relatively new political presence, Addis will need to quickly introduce herself to the voters, a task made tougher by a pandemic that has restricted door knocking and house parties.


In an era of intense partisan polarization, Cunningham is an anomaly: a Republican who has successfully distanced himself from the national party brand. As GOP registration continues dropping in his district, it’s unclear whether he can continue to pull off this trick.



  • California Teachers Association

  • California Correctional Peace Officers Association


  • California Environmental Justice Alliance

  • California Nurses Association

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Bound between the San Gabriel and Tehachapi mountains, most of this high-desert district belongs to Los Angeles County, but it has always cut a different cultural and economic path. The Air Force, its auxiliary industries, agriculture and trucking have provided jobs here, and politics have tilted conservative.

But times are changing, partly due to tens of thousands of priced-out Angelinos — many Black and Latino — who’ve recently moved northward into Lancaster and Palmdale. In 2012, registered Democrats and Republicans were neck-and-neck across the district. Now Democrats outnumber Republicans by 11 points.



Once this seat was represented by Democrat Steve Fox. Then Republican Tom Lackey beat him. The two have been battling it out each election since — and here we are again.

Republican - Tom Lackey

A former special education teacher and Boy Scout turned highway patrolman, Lackey is one of the Assembly’s most moderate Republicans: More than half of the bills he put his name on last year were co-authored with Democrats. He also plays well with others in Sacramento, where there seems to be a bipartisan consensus that, if nothing else, he’s a pretty nice guy.

His legislative highlight reel includes authoring a bill that legalized lane-splitting by motorcyclists, joining Democrats in various efforts to regulate and cut taxes on cannabis dispensaries, and choking up on the Assembly floor while speaking in support of a law that restricts police use of force.

But though Lackey has managed to defy the party registration numbers of his district since 2014, he’s still a Republican in a district that increasingly isn’t. 

Democrat - Steve Fox

A Democrat, the district’s Democratic-bent notwithstanding, is hardly a shoo-in here. Fox is a former Republican and perpetual candidate who held the seat for one term before being ousted by Lackey in 2014. He describes himself as conservative for a Democrat —  a pragmatist who wants to reflect the district. He also has been accused by two former staffers of sexual harassment, allegations he calls “smears.” Both cases resulted in legal settlements with six-digit payouts, but with Fox admitting to no wrongdoing. For that reason, the California Democratic Party refused to endorse Fox this year. 

Most of this district’s voters live in the 25th congressional district, one of the most fiercely competitive races in the country. The turnout surge might be enough to carry Fox over the line.


Before the primary, this was California Democrats’ most promising opportunity to pick up a new seat. But with Fox in the running, some Democratic strategists have already written off the race. This contest will be a face-off between one candidate with the lion’s share of the money and endorsements, and another who is the underdog in every way except for that he’s a Democrat running in 2020.



  • state Senate Minority Leader Shannon Grove

  • California Correctional Peace Officers Association


  • Frank Roberts, former Mayor of Lancaster

  • Democratic Assemblymember Jose Medina

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Snaking from the outskirts of Riverside through the low desert of Coachella Valley and up the Morongo Grade to Twentynine Palms, this district sits on the knife’s edge of California politics. It holds a virtually identical number of registered Democrats and Republicans. 

That doesn’t make the district purple, so much as checkered red and blue. Republicans dominate in Yucaipa, Yucca Valley and Twenty Nine Palms, where voters helped give President Trump a 4-point lead over Hillary Clinton, district-wide. But Palm Springs and rapidly growing, increasingly diverse places such as Beaumont and San Jacinto (which now host former Los Angeles and Riverside residents seeking more affordable housing) are drifting Democratic. On GOP ballots still tend to outnumber those of Democrats, but that margin has been narrowing for years.



Chad Mayes is running on his appeal to moderates and independents and on his name recognition. Andrew Kotyuk is running as a partisan Republican — and his party is out for revenge.

Independent - Chad Mayes

Back in 2017, Mayes had a vision for the California Republican Party. As leader of the Assembly GOP, he urged colleagues to dwell less on divisive cultural issues and instead offer small-government solutions to reduce poverty and steward the environment.

His fellow party members weren’t buying it. After Mayes helped Democrats reauthorize a cap-and-trade emissions reduction program to combat climate change in 2017, Republicans booted him from his leadership position. Mayes then joined former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to find a “New Way” for the party, an anti-Trump voice within the GOP. This time, Mayes is running without a political party entirely.

Republican - Andrew Kotyuk

After Mayes bailed on the GOP, Republican Andrew Kotyuk, the mayor of San Jacinto, a wealth manager, and propane supplier, jumped in. Business groups have a friend in Mayes and have been spending accordingly. But local conservatives and the GOP establishment are hoping to punish Mayes, whom they see as a turncoat, and replace them with someone who promises to be a reliably conservative voice in the state Capitol.


What happens when an anti-Trump Republican finally gives up and runs as an independent in a district that backed Trump in 2016? Good question. More than a few Republicans will be watching to find out.



  • Equality California

  • National Rifle Association


  • California Republican Assembly

  • California Republican Party

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This district overlaps with both the 39th Congressional (where Democratic Rep. Gil Cisneros faces a rematch from Republican Young Kim) and the 29th Senate (which will host the biggest rematch of the Senate political map). Upshot: This tri-country corner of Southern California suburbia is at the eye of three overlapping electoral storms.

Birthplace to Richard Nixon, the region has undergone a radical shift away from the GOP. That trend precedes the Trump era, but the nativist politics of the president, anathema to so many immigrants, and highly educated voters, has exacerbated it. This district is one-third Latino and one-third Asian American, and 40% of adults here have college degrees. In 2014, Republicans outnumbered Democrats in the district by more than 8 points. This year, Democrats have the slight advantage.



A Republican who has hung onto a diverse patch of SoCal suburbia, despite waning GOP registration, faces a new Democratic challenger.

Republican - Phillip Chen

The incumbent Chen is a reliably center-right vote, particularly on business, tax and crime-related legislation. But he’s no firebrand. In Sacramento, he’s been known to make the occasional bipartisan gesture and he seems to prefer a hand-shaking, local-business-boosting approach to politics over the Twitter flamewar. 

That would seem to match his district, which has turned against the politics of President Trump but remains right-of-center. In 2016, Chen won the seat for the first time by an overwhelming margin even as Hillary Clinton beat Trump across the district by 5 points. A prodigious fundraiser, Chen has also been blessed with relatively weak electoral opponents in the past.

Democrat - Andrew Rodriguez

The mayor of Walnut in Los Angeles County, Rodriguez is 27, Latino, and could easily be characterized as the future of the Democratic Party and the state. With a master’s degree in real estate development from the University of Southern California, his policy focus is housing and his politics skew pro-density. As the challenger in one of the most fiercely contested swing seats of the year, he has the endorsement of virtually every major California Democrat and tons of money to spend. 


In 2018, Democrats flipped every Orange County congressional district blue, sacking the heart of Republican political power in the state. This year, the Dems aim to repeat their feat for legislative seats. This is one of the top targets.



  • California Statewide Law Enforcement Association

  • California Professional Firefighters


  • California Labor Federation

  • Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis

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Running south from the University of Southern California campus, bracketed by the Harbor Freeway and Central Avenue, this stretch of South Central was the destination of choice for thousands of Black migrants fleeing the South during the Great Migration. The Black population continued to swell in the post-war years as shops, restaurants, and clubs formed the seat of Black culture and political power in the city. 

But beginning in the 1990s, the district began to change. Now three out of four residents of this patchwork of Gateway Cities are Latino, even though it has never been represented by a member of that community in the Assembly.



Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a progressive stalwart, and longtime incumbent faces an unexpected challenger from the district’s Latino community.

Democrat - Reggie Jones-Sawyer

An institution of lefty politics in California, Jones-Sawyer is the co-founder of the Assembly’s Progressive Caucus and one of the first legislators to endorse the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders. He first won this seat in 2012 and has easily held it ever since. He ran unopposed in 2014 and 2016 and beat a half-hearted challenger in 2018. Which is why this year’s primary may have caught him off guard. 

Jones-Sawyer came in second place in March — unusual for an incumbent — and his campaign and the bulk of the California Democratic Party establishment aren’t taking any chances. He has been one of the top fundraisers of any legislative candidate and has the endorsement of virtually every major California Democratic politician and influential labor union, plus the state Democratic Party.

Democrat - Efren Martinez

Though his first place win in the primary may have taken Democrats outside the southeast Los Angeles by surprise, Martinez is a known entity within the district — particularly its east side. The former head of the Florence-Firestone/Walnut Park Chamber of Commerce, he linked local businesses with municipal elected leaders, making connections with both sides along the way. Those ties have helped Martinez solicit campaign contributions from local businesses and the endorsements of Huntington Park and Walnut Park elected leaders and staff. But they’ve gotten him into trouble in the past, too. In 2017, the Los Angeles Times reported that a Huntington Park city council member had worked as a consultant to Martinez, soliciting contributions to his short-lived 2015 Assembly campaign from companies that had business before the council. (The district attorney launched an investigation but dropped it in February).

One of Martinez’s central appeals to voters is that he is “from the community and for the community” and that he is running against a longtime politician who “hasn’t done anything for our community.” That pitch paid dividends during the primary, where Martinez’s votes came disproportionately from the east side of the district where the Latino population is most concentrated.


This race isn’t about party, as both candidates are Democrats. It’s not even predominantly about ideology, though Martinez’s business connections and endorsers would seem to put him to the right of Jones-Sawyer. What this is mostly about: the shifting demographics of one of the state’s most Democratic districts.



  • California Democratic Party

  • California Teachers Association


  • Peace Officer Research Association of California Peace Officer Research Association of California

  • Huntington Park Mayor Karina Macias

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The district is all Orange County. That’s a fact of literal geography; from Lake Forest through north Irvine to Placentia, but it’s also a statement about its politics. 

Of all California’s hot district races — legislative or congressional — none have seen a larger drop in the Republican share of registered voters since 2014. That doesn’t mean this former GOP bastion is now solidly blue; Democratic registration has ticked up only slightly. But the types of Republicans who live here — affluent, well-educated— have not been keen on Trump. Hillary Clinton beat him here by 5 points.



In one of the state’s swingiest swing districts, a Republican incumbent goes up against a formidable Democratic challenger whom many within the party’s left-of-center establishment regard as their best hope for victory. 

Republican - Steven Choi

First elected to the Legislature in 2016, Choi is running as a traditional SoCal Republican with passions for cutting taxes, regulations, and crime. He skated by relatively easily last time, despite shifting political terrain, thanks to a challenger with little name ID and money. This year, he has a target on his back.

An immigrant from South Korea, Choi is a soft-spoken, buttoned-up presence in the Capitol — voting with Republicans most of the time but extolling the value of occasional bipartisanship to get things done. Typically a lackluster fundraiser, he has been amassing a considerable war chest this year as GOP donors rally to his defense.

Democrat - Melissa Fox

If Democratic political consultants were building a candidate from scratch to win here, Melissa Fox would make a pretty good mockup.

A lawyer and small business owner who ran for Irvine’s city council on a pledge to improve public transportation and help veterans, she’s since branded herself as a pragmatic coalition-builder.  She happens to share a profile with many of the disaffected Republicans whom Democrats are courting: an educated white woman. 

Oh, and she’s sitting on a mountain of cash. Fox is in the top 15 fund-raisers for any Assembly race in the state this year, having nearly doubled Choi’s haul and outraising any other non-incumbent by far.


Few districts have shifted as quickly from blood red to purple since the election of President Trump. This year, Democrats think they’ve found the right candidate — and the right year — to unseat a vulnerable incumbent.



  • Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron

  • California Republican Party


  • California Professional Firefighters

  • Equality California

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Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: A coastal Orange County district, once a GOP bastion, has become in the Trump era a virtual toss-up. In 2014, Republicans outnumbered Democrats by 10 points here. It’s down to 1 point. 

That may be due in part to Trump’s nativist immigration stance. The district is home to Little Saigon, one of the country’s largest population centers of Vietnamese Americans — many first-generation immigrants. But the story is more complicated. Once a reliable block of support for the anti-communist warriors in the California GOP, Little Saigon, and its post-Cold War politics have been in flux since long before 2016, as younger Vietnamese Americans come of voting age.



This seat is now held by Republican Tyler Diep, but he lost his shot to retain it this spring. He had emerged from 2018’s blue wave election as the only GOP freshman in the Assembly, but after siding with Democrats on a law that makes it harder for companies to classify their gig workers as independent contractors, his own party — with the help of Lyft and Uber — turned against him. The top two contenders emerging from the primary present a clearer ideological choice. And unlike previous elections that have fallen along competing ethnic lines, both escaped from Vietnam as children and have deep ties within the district’s Vietnamese community.

Republican - Janet Nguyen

A former state senator who lost her overlapping seat in 2018, Nguyen rose to challenge Diep after local Republican Party activists put out a call for his ouster. She succeeded in elbowing him to the side in the March primary. A mainstay of Orange County GOP politics for the last 15 years, she’s touting her opposition to the gig worker law that tanked Diep’s career and her general support for lower taxes and business-friendly regulations.

Democrat - Diedre Thu-Ha Nguyen

Democrats were already hopeful that Nguyen had the right background to win this district: Born in Saigon, she was drawn into politics in 2016 over a local redistricting process she said cut local Vietnamese and Latino voters out of the process. She ended up winning a newly created seat on the Garden Grove City Council, running as a non-ideological newcomer. 

Since the coronavirus began tearing through California in March, her campaign has been emphasizing another aspect of her resume: Nguyen is a research scientist at Quest Diagnostics, a lab that performs COVID tests.


With the Assembly’s most moderate Republican unceremoniously cleared from the field, now this red-going-on-blue district has to make a clear choice: left or right.



  • state Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove

  • Orange County Medical Association


  • Equality California

  • Sierra Club

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When people who have never been here think “Orange County,” this district is probably what they envision: suburban surfside idyllic, much whiter and well-to-do than the region as a whole and, until recently, predictably Republican. 

The GOP still holds an ever-so-slight registration advantage here, but in 2018, the district sent a Democrat to the Legislature for the first time since its boundaries were drawn. Voters here also voted narrowly for Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom over his Republican opponent.



In one of the Democratic Party’s toughest retention battles, this race pits a moderate incumbent with a staggering amount of money against a traditional Orange County conservative.

Democrat - Cottie Petrie-Norris

Cottie Petrie-Norris was inspired to run after the election of President Trump. Ivy League-educated with a prior career in banking and marketing, she is the only Democrat in the Legislature representing a district where Republicans still outnumber Democrats. No surprise, she has been one of the Assembly’s more moderate members. When the anti-tax Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association handed out “grades” to every member of the state Legislature last year, Petrie-Norris was the only Democrat to receive an “A.” 

In 2018, she won by 5 points, defeating a male opponent in the “year of the woman” who was also a lackluster fundraiser. Her opponent this year may put up a bigger challenge, but Petrie-Norris has plenty to fund her defense. She has raised more money than any other Legislative candidate this year.

Republican - Diane Dixon

As a city council member of Newport Beach, Dixon offers a distinctly Orange County brand of conservatism aimed at reducing regulations, reining in pension costs, and fighting crime — but also protecting the coastal environment. She contends that her opponent is a secret liberal and a “Newsom Democrat.” Her Exhibit A: Petrie-Norris voted for a new law that makes it harder for companies to classify their gig workers as independent contractors.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Dixon has also emerged as one of the more vocal critics of the governor, whom she assailed as a “new class of monarch” for his decision to close state beaches in Orange County.


With a fresh candidate and more cash, Republicans want a mulligan on this OC race they lost in 2018. For Democrats, this may be their most vulnerable.



  • California Association of Highway Patrolmen

  • California Nurses Association


  • Irvine Mayor Christina L. Shea

  • state Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove

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Usually, political change is gradual, but the transformation here seemed to take place overnight on June 5, 2018. 

Thanks to a surplus of Republican candidates and a last-minute false allegation of sexual harassment against the top GOP candidate, two Democrats won the first and second slots for out of the state’s top-two primary. In what had long been a solidly Republican district, not a single GOP candidate qualified.

The political reality on the ground is more complex. As a patchwork of red and blue communities — Camp Pendleton Marine base to the north, Encinitas to the south — the district has been shedding registered Republicans for years. Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump here by more than 12 points, and Democrats already outnumber GOP voters. 

As for that night on June 5, 2018? The two Democratic candidates together got more than 50% of the vote, meaning this was always going to be a tough one for the GOP to hold. In the March 2020 primary, the Democratic incumbent won nearly 58% of the vote.



Yes, the incumbent, Tasha Boerner Horvath, won this seat in a fluke twist of electoral fate. But there is nothing impromptu about her reelection bid against her poorly funded Republican challenger.

Democrat - Tasha Boerner Horvath

Between the two Democrats running in 2018, Boerner Horvath was the more moderate. That endeared her to many mainstream Democratic party groups, who saw her as a better ideological fit for the district, as well as to business interests hoping to sideline the progressive in the race.

Since winning the seat, she has carried bipartisan-friendly bills that cater to her district (providing more state support for veteran college students, boosting electric vehicle charging stations, promoting cash prize equity at California surfing competitions). She’s also one of the state’s biggest fundraisers.

Republican - Melanie Burkholder

Republican Burkholder’s biography includes a half-decade stint as a Secret Service agent and a doctorate in clinical Christian counseling. An occasional host on Fox News and other conservative outlets — where she dispenses mental health advice and political analysis — she lists her priorities as opposition to new taxes, boosting access to charter schools, and pushing for a part-time Legislature. Like most Republicans in the state, she has campaigned on her opposition to a new law that made it much more difficult for businesses to classify their workers as independent contractors. 

Burkholder has struggled to raise the requisite cash to put up a real fight. Since the beginning of the campaign, she’s been outraised by more than 15-to-1. That may be thanks in part to questions that have been raised about Burkholder’s medical opinions — and her credentials. In December 2019, a judge denied Burkholder the right to describe herself as a “doctor” on the ballot, ordering the state to replace the word with “licensed counselor.” She’s also championed parents’ rights to keep their children from being vaccinated, and encouraged supporters to seek medical waivers exempting them from wearing masks during the pandemic.


Republicans are trying to keep a formerly inevitable GOP hold from falling out of reach for good.



  • California's Teachers Association

  • California Professional Firefighters


  • San Diego Asian Americans for Equality

  • state Senate Minority Leader Shannon Grove

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Anchored in the residential neighborhoods of inland urban San Diego, the district gets more conservative the further north you go, as it ropes in Rancho Santa Fe and Poway. But the majority of voters have been favoring Democratic candidates after giving Clinton a 16-point edge over Trump. 



A Republican-turned-Democrat squares off against a Republican up-and-comer.

Democrat - Brian Maienschein

After eking out a 600-vote win in November of 2018, Maienschein, who had been the Assembly’s most moderate Republican, became a Democrat two months later. “As the Republican Party has drifted further right, I – and my votes – have changed,” he said at the time, also blaming President Trump. Assembly Republican leader Marie Waldron labeled him a “turncoat.” As a Dem, Maienschein remains a moderate — but he’s no outlier within the party.

Republican - June Yang Cutter

Making hay of Maienschein’s party switch, his GOP challenger has dismissed him as “a career politician who wanted to keep his job.” 

Presenting herself as a contrast, Cutter has never been elected to office. An employment law litigator who regularly represents employers, Cutter has also said the fight against a 2019 law making it harder to classify “gig workers” as independent contractors “is particularly close to my heart.”


The GOP is looking for payback against a candidate who defected from the Republicans to become a Democrat, immediately after his squeaker of a reelection last time.



  • California Federation of Teachers

  • California Labor Federation


  • San Diego Asian Americans For Equality

  • California Republican Party

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