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California Republicans in swing districts backed Trump ally Jordan for speaker

He built his brand on being a roaring archconservative unafraid to take on liberals. He was a pioneer of this new right-wing faction that has become the face of the Republican Party. He was former President Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. House of Representatives. And now, he’s put California Republicans in a tough spot.

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan ended his bid to lead the lower chamber Friday after facing stiff opposition from moderates and other lawmakers in key districts.

But all five California Republicans from districts President Biden won in 2020 — Young Kim of La Habra, David Valadao of Hanford, Mike Garcia of Santa Clarita, Michelle Steel of Seal Beach and John Duarte of Modesto — stood firmly behind Jordan throughout his three failed attempts to secure the gavel.

The five Californians’ decision to back the Ohioan could come back to haunt them. Jordan’s deep ties to Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election may not sit well with key voters in swing districts, Democratic strategist and pollster Cornell Belcher told The Times on Friday.

“You have someone in Jim Jordan that encapsulates all that they dislike about MAGA and the Trump era,” Belcher said. “Jordan is the Donald Trump of the House of Representatives. And those swing voters have rejected Donald Trump.”

House Republicans have struggled to pick a leader since eight Republicans on Oct. 3 led a vote, joined by Democrats, to remove Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield from the speaker’s chair.

McCarthy’s historic ouster has left the lower chamber in chaos. Republicans have proven unable to secure a simple majority to elect a speaker who can call floor votes on critical legislation, including bills to respond to the conflicts engulfing Israel and Ukraine and to avert a government shutdown by mid-November.

Polling indicates voters are annoyed by the chaos.

Forty-nine percent of GOP respondents disapprove of how congressional Republicans are handling their jobs, according to a Thursday poll conducted by Global Strategy Group and released by Navigator Research, a Democratic firm. Sixty-nine percent of all voters said they disapproved of the way congressional Republicans handle their jobs.

Republican voters have become more likely to hold their own party accountable for the chaos in Washington. On Sept. 11, 32% of Republicans polled said they would blame their party most if
the government were to shut down. By Oct. 16, that share had grown to 36%.

“The fact that Jim Jordan has gotten up to 200 votes is a reflection: He and Trump represent the GOP,” Sarah Longwell, an anti-Trump Republican strategist, told The Times. “They are symptoms of the same problem. The party has moved hard into the MAGA direction.”

“It’s not right, it’s not left,” Longwell said. “It’s just Trump.”

Duarte and Garcia’s races are considered “toss-ups,” Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan congressional watchdog, noted on Friday. Cook rates Valadao and Steel’s races as leaning Republican, and Kim’s as likely to go Republican.

Spokespeople for Garcia, Steel and Duarte did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement, Kim told The Times that McCarthy’s removal had kneecapped the chamber from responding to pertinent issues.

“I have worked in good faith to be part of the solution and support our conference’s nominees, but it’s clear no candidate has the votes to be Speaker at this time,” she told The Times in a statement Friday.

Kim said her conference should empower North Carolina’s Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, who is serving as speaker pro tempore, to pass critical legislation until a leader is elected.

Valadao has said in statements that he backed Jordan “because we need to get back to work” and that he would support a plan to empower McHenry.

Spokespeople for Kim and Valadao would not say who the lawmakers would back after Jordan dropped out and at least five Republicans — Reps. Austin Scott of Georgia, Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, Pete Sessions of Texas, Byron Donalds of Florida and Jack Bergman of Michigan — said they would run for speaker.

McHenry has said he will not run to stay in the chair. But giving him more speakership powers could still be on the table if his caucus can’t agree on a leader.

The proposal to grant him more power, which would probably need buy-in from Democrats, fell flat Thursday when it became clear Republicans were overwhelmingly against it, leaving the lower chamber foundering as it’s set to enter its fourth week without a permanent leader.

California Republicans’ pragmatic explanations for backing Jordan have not stopped anti-Trump groups from going after them.

Before Jordan dropped out on Friday, Congressional Integrity Project, a Democratic-aligned nonprofit, released ads highlighting the Ohioan’s ties to the right wing of his party.

The digital ad noted that Jordan founded the arch-conservative House Freedom Caucus, denied the results of the 2020 presidential election and is “arguably the member of Congress most involved in Donald Trump’s attempted coup.”

“Anyone who endorses Jordan and any member who votes for him is affirmatively voting for a coup plotter, an election denier and a foe of American democracy,” the ad said.

Jordan, who voted not to certify many election results, “was a significant player in President Trump’s efforts” to stay in power, the House Jan. 6 committee noted in its final report on Trump supporters’ 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol during the certification of Biden’s victory.

Garcia is the only one of the five Californians in question who voted against certifying some election results.

Denying the outcome of the 2020 presidential election remains deeply unpopular among key voters, Belcher said. In 2022, many Democratic candidates ran on a platform saying their party would save American democracy. This argument resonated with voters as Democrats blunted what should have been a massive red wave for the GOP, Belcher said.

The protracted infighting among House Republicans is “an absolute gift” to Democrats, he added. He predicts that progressives competing in tight California districts will run attack ads featuring their opponents’ support for Jordan, as advocacy groups have.

Other experts, though, say all hope is not lost for the five California Republicans.

Their chances to stay in office will heavily depend on their messaging, said Whit Ayers, a longtime GOP pollster. If they can show they backed Jordan for practical reasons, voters may excuse their support for him.

Voters who are paying very close attention may recall that the GOP refused to empower McHenry to get business done while the speakership race continues. But Ayres doubted most voters are following that closely.

“It’s so much of an inside game,” he said, “most people are simply not aware of it.”

Logan reported from Washington and Pinho from Santa Barbara.

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