California’s top-two primary system, which sends the highest two voter getters to the general election, could lock Democrats out of the polls in November in key districts, preventing them from gaining the 23 seats they need to pick up to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives. A glut of Democrats have decided to run for Cngress in order to oppose President Donald Trump‘s agenda. The state’s so-called “jungle primary” will be held on Tuesday, June 5.

Orange County – a once conservative area that ended up supporting Hillary Clinton in 2016 – has three battleground districts that could pose the risk of splitting votes among too many Democratic candidates and allowing two Republicans to instead make it to the general election. Failing to settle on a candidate would result in Democrats losing the important opportunity to retake the House.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign (DCC) and other groups have spent millions of dollars to prevent this Democratic “lockout.” Public and internal polls show a significant risk of a lockout in at least one district, and the DCC has focused more on tearing down Republican candidates to reduce their support rather than guiding voters to specific candidates.

A top congressional staffer involved in California races told Politico that it’s “time to break the emergency glass in California” and if Democrats “don’t have a candidate on the ballot in all three districts, then it’s a huge failure for the DCC and the party.”


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Although the GOP is also at risk of a lockout in several California districts, the stakes are higher for Democrats trying to take over the House. In one such district, Democratic nominee, Doug Applegate, lost to retiring Republican Rep. Darrell Issa in the 2016 election by just over 1,600 votes. Applegate is running again and Democrats see him as the best chance of picking up a seat. The DCC has played a more active role in races for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and retiring Republican Rep. Ed Royce’s districts.

Doug Herman, a California-based consultant, told Politico that the political infrastructure was “untested” after such a long time without competitive races and that “when the wave of enthusiastic and viable candidates was building, the candidate field got ahead of the party’s ability to shape that field.

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