Navy vet mocked by Dem rival may help California GOP capture Katie Hill's former House seat

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A special election in California next Tuesday may give Republicans the chance to win back a House seat lost to a Democrat during 2018’s so-called "blue wave."

Former Rep. Katie Hill, a Democrat, won the seat north of Los Angeles in the state's 25th Congressional District, which had been a GOP stronghold for more than two decades. But last October, Hill resigned amid a nude photo scandal and accusations by her estranged husband of an inappropriate relationship with a staffer. Hill denied a relationship.

On May 12, voters will decide who will serve out the remainder of Hill's term in the House. The candidates are Democrat Christy Smith and Republican Mike Garcia. Then in November -- against the backdrop of the presidential election -- they'll decide whether to elect Smith or Garcia for a full term.

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Smith received a high-profile endorsement from former President Obama this week, but she also got into a bit of hot water when a leaked video showed her mocking Garcia’s focus on his military experience, according to The Hill. Garcia is a former Navy pilot.

She later tried to undo the damage.

“Without question, I have the deepest respect for Mike Garcia’s service to our country and I’m sorry for comments that I made that might suggest otherwise,” she later said in a statement.

“Without question, I have the deepest respect for Mike Garcia’s service to our country and I’m sorry for comments that I made that might suggest otherwise.”

— Democrat Christy Smith

President Trump has endorsed Garcia and slammed Smith on Twitter: “Vote @MikeGarcia2020 by May 12th! His opponent @ChristyforCA25 . . . Now she’s mocking our Great Vets! We need Navy Fighter Pilot Mike Garcia in #CA25!” he wrote.

The seat of was one 39 Democrats flipped in 2018 but early mail-in ballot returns seem to be favoring Republicans.

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So far, 32 percent of registered Republicans have voted in the special election, compared to 20 percent of Democrats and 15 percent of independents, according to The Washington Post.

Complicating the election is the coronavirus pandemic, which makes both campaigning and voting more difficult.

Only a small number of polling locations will be open, which means most voters will need to cast absentee ballots.

Democrats say they will likely do better in November when turnout for the presidential election is expected to be higher.

“We’re trying to run a campaign at the height of the crisis when it is hard to get people’s attention because people are so distracted by the crisis,” Smith said, according to The Post. “We’re hopeful for the best and that the turnout breaks in our favor.”

Hill’s high unfavorability in the district also hasn’t helped Smith, who is a California assemblywoman and former school board member, according to The New York Times.

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While Smith calls herself a moderate with public service experience, Garcia has pledged to “to cut taxes, grow jobs, and keep Sacramento policies from spreading to DC” if elected, according to The Post.