The race in California's 25th Congressional District between Tony Strickland, who has served in the state Assembly and the California Senate, and State Senator Steve Knight (District 21), is one of 5 same-party races in November between two Republicans. The election will determine who will succeed U.S. Representative Howard Philip "Buck" McKeon, who is retiring after serving 21 years on Capitol Hill.
Congressional District 25 encompasses the northern part of Los Angeles County and parts of Ventura County. It includes the cities of Palmdale, Santa Clarita, Lancaster, as well as the northern part of the San Francisco Valley.
With an open seat up for grabs, the race between Strickland and Knight is one of the most competitive in California. Neither candidate will be able to rely solely on the party-line vote, which means every vote, regardless of party preference or lack thereof, will count on Election Day.
Lee Rogers, the leading Democrat in the June 3 nonpartisan, top-two open primary, finished third behind the two Republicans with 22.4 percent of the vote (Strickland took 29.4 percent and Knight garnered 28.4 percent). After the primary, he announced his endorsement of Knight for the general election, calling him an honest man with integrity. Many people were surprised by the cross-party endorsement.
Rogers ran in 2012, advanced to the general election, but lost to the incumbent by over 9 percentage points. It is the closest any Democrat got to beating McKeon since he was first elected in 1992.
In the 25th Congressional District, Republicans slightly outnumber Democrats in registration, making up 37.61 percent of the voting population while Democrats make up 36.51 percent. Though the race is between two Republicans, voters not affiliated with the GOP will decide who the district's next congressman will be.
So, how have the candidates responded?
In an interview for IVN, Knight emphasized his commitment to nonpartisan representation.
"If and when I have the honor of being elected to represent our region in Congress, I won’t be representing Republicans, Democrats, Decline-to-State, Greens, or independents, I will be representing each and every member of this community,” he said.
During his interview, Knight was asked what specific message he hoped to get out to voters not affiliated with the GOP. He answered:
“Regardless of party registration, our residents deserves a leader who will act. Each issue can be picked apart or skewed by a different political viewpoint, but the apathetic attempts by officials at the federal level to truly fix the problems facing our country and work toward solutions has redefined the word 'frustration.' I will not bow down to the Washington insiders who created this mess.”
On Thursday, however, Rogers withdrew his support for Knight, saying that his friend had not given Democrats any reason to support him. Instead, Rogers said he is following other Democratic leaders in the area and abstaining from voting in the general election.
Rogers cites Knight's anti-abortion stance, his vote to allow the sale of paraphernalia bearing the Confederate flag in California state buildings, and his decision to campaign with former gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly as reasons why he decided not to support Knight anymore.
It is unclear, at this point, what impact Rogers' decision will have, if any. Strickland didn't seem to be too concerned about Rogers endorsing his general election opponent. He believes that the support he has garnered and his overall message of leadership will resonate with voters.
"My message was clear: people want leadership. And I have said that too many elected officials are not challenging the country to come together as Americans,” he said in an interview for the Santa Clarita Valley Signal.
In a district where the major parties make up nearly the same percentage of the electorate, and independent and third party voters make up a sizable percentage as well, candidates will discover that if they are not willing to put partisanship aside and put representing their district first, they may win on Election Day, but they may not be in Congress for very long.
Editor's note: The author reached out to Tony Strickland's campaign, but has not yet secured an interview with the candidate.