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California Democrats seek to expand presence in Congress

In this undated photo provided by the Huerta For Congress Campaign, Democratic congressional candidate Emilio Huerta poses in California. (Huerta For Congress Campaign via AP)

U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa was in the fight of his political life Tuesday as California Democrats sought to use opposition to Donald Trump to build on their commanding lead in the nation's largest congressional delegation.

Democrats hold a 39-14 advantage in the state and eyed a handful of Republican seats for pickups, including Issa's in the San Diego area, Steve Knight's in the Los Angeles area and Jeff Denham's in Modesto.

With Hillary Clinton heavily favored in California and the state's U.S. Senate race featuring two Democrats, Republican candidates faced tall obstacles in getting party faithful to vote.

Here's a look at key U.S. House contests:

GOP STAR IN TROUBLE?

In the 49th District north of San Diego, Issa faced a tough challenge from Democrat Doug Applegate, an attorney and retired Marine colonel who sought elected office for the first time.

Issa, the wealthiest member of Congress, cruised to re-election seven times against little-known opponents, including a 21-point victory in 2014. Applegate surprised almost everyone in the June top-two primary when he came within 5 percentage points of Issa to advance to November's runoff.

Applegate has targeted Issa for his support of Trump and for his role as President Barack Obama's chief inquisitor as chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee from 2011 to 2015.

Issa compared Trump to Ronald Reagan, served as a delegate for him at the Republican National Convention and joined his team of national security advisers.

DISAVOWING TRUMP

Knight, a freshman lawmaker representing California's 25th district north of Los Angeles, was considered one of the nation's most endangered Republicans in Congress even before Trump became the GOP nominee.

Bryan Caforio sought to benefit from anti-Trump sentiment among the large number of Latinos in the district. Knight said he didn't support Trump after the billionaire businessman was caught on tape bragging about his sexual advances on women.

Caforio moved to the district only last year, leading critics to label him a carpetbagger. Knight emphasized his deep local roots as a Palmdale city councilman and state lawmaker.

In the Central Valley's overwhelmingly Democratic 21st District, two-term Republican incumbent David Valadao fought a challenge from Democrat Emilio Huerta, a Bakersfield attorney and son of labor icon Dolores Huerta.

Valadao said in June that he didn't support Trump, blunting a Democratic line of attack. He enjoyed a big fundraising advantage.

SO WE MEET AGAIN

Trump figured large in California's 10th District, where two-term Republican Jeff Denham faced a rematch against Democrat Michael Eggman, an almond grower.

Denham defeated Eggman by 20 points in the June primary and by 12 points in 2014. Still, the district voted twice for President Barack Obama and was considered one of the tightest races in the country. National Democratic leaders made it a top priority.

In the Silicon Valley's 17th District, Mike Honda faced a rematch against fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, a former U.S. Commerce Department official under Obama.

Honda, the only California incumbent who didn't finish first in the primary, has long been under scrutiny by the House Ethics Committee for allegations he had congressional aides perform campaign work on government time.

Khanna's campaign manager resigned in September after Honda sued, alleging the challenger's aide took fundraising information from the eight-term incumbent.

ETHICAL CLOUD

Republicans saw their best chance for a pickup in the Sacramento-area's 7th District, which Democrat Ami Bera narrowly won in 2012 and 2014. He faces a tough challenge from Republican challenger Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, who raised his profile as a critic of Obama's immigration policies.

Bera's father was sentenced to a year in federal prison in August for illegally funneling nearly $270,000 to his son's campaigns. Ami Bera was not charged and denied knowing about his father's activities.

The Teamsters endorsed Jones after Bera supported fast-track trade negotiating authority for Obama and then withdrew support after Jones backed Trump. Jones pulled his endorsement last month after audio surfaced of Trump boasting about grabbing women.

PASSING THE TORCH

The retirement of nine-term Democrat Lois Capps created a competitive race in California's 24th District on the Central Coast.

Salud Carbajal, a Santa Barbara County supervisor, was favored in the district where Democrats enjoy an advantage in voter registration. Republican businessman Justin Fareed, 28, represents a generational shift.

In Orange County's 44th District, former state Sen. Lou Correa and Garden Grove Mayor Bao Nguyen faced off in a race for an open seat created by Democrat Loretta Sanchez's U.S. Senate run. Both are Democrats.

In Los Angeles' 44th District, Nanette Barragan, a former Hermosa Beach councilwoman and state Sen. Isadore Hall III sought to fill the seat of Janice Hahn, who ran for county supervisor. Both are Democrats.

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