By Sharon Bernstein and Joseph Ax
SACRAMENTO, Calif./PRINCETON, N.J. (Reuters) - U.S. Democrats on Wednesday said the results of nominating contests in California and New Jersey put them in a stronger position to gain control of Congress in November and oppose Republican President Donald Trump.
The morning after the busiest day of the primary election season, when voters in eight states picked candidates for the November election, California Democrats ensured they would have a chance of winning back some of the 10 Republican-held U.S. House of Representatives seats they are targeting.
California is key to Democrats' hopes of gaining a majority in the 435-seat House, which would require flipping 23 seats.
A Democrat-controlled House would likely stall much of Trump's policy agenda and could lend strength to any potential effort to impeach Trump if Democrats decide grounds exist, either by virtue of the ongoing probe into Russian election interference by special counsel Robert Mueller or other reasons.
"As we await final results in multiple districts, it is clear that Democrats are in a stronger position than ever to take back the House, and winning districts in California will be central to that path," said Tyler Law, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in a Wednesday email.
But solid turnout by Republican voters on Tuesday underscored the challenges Democrats will face in trying to win in the conservative areas like suburbs of Los Angeles and Sacramento, as well as in rural areas that supported Trump in the presidential election two years ago.
"Great night for Republicans!" Trump tweeted on Wednesday. "So much for the big Blue Wave, it may be a big Red Wave. Working hard!"
Republicans control the Senate by a two-seat majority, but political analysts see Democrats as having a weaker chance of turning the balance of power there since they must defend a bevy of seats in Republican-leaning rural states including Indiana, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia.
FIGHT GOES ON IN CALIFORNIA
California saw an unusually large number of Democrats vying for office, many energized by anger over Trump administration policies restricting immigration and abortion access as well as easing environmental regulations.
The large field could have undercut the party's chances for success since the state's system for choosing candidates allows the two top vote-getters to advance to the general election regardless of party. Splitting of the Democratic vote could have led to two Republicans running in the general election.
Most other U.S. states have rules allowing one candidate from each party into the general election.
Democrats had eight candidates on the ballot in the race to unseat Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher, who has served in Congress since 1989 and was re-elected in 2016 in a southern California district that also chose Democrat Hillary Clinton for president.
Harley Rouda, a real estate executive and first-time congressional candidate with the support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, looked poised to challenge Rohrabacher based on state election data.
Democrat and venture capital executive Josh Harder held a narrow edge in a central California district over Republican Ted Howze, a long-time local government official. Harder or Howze will challenge four-term incumbent Republican Jeff Denham.
California Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox won a chance to face Democrat Gavin Newsom in November. Analysts saw that as a positive for the Republican Party, reasoning that not having a candidate on the ballot for governor could have diminished turnout among party supporters.
NATIONALLY BACKED DEMOCRATS PREVAIL
Candidates backed by the national Democratic Party succeeded in winning spots on the November ballot in eight races in New Jersey, California, Iowa and New Mexico. Results for the ninth candidate, Rouda, were not final early on Wednesday.
Those candidates included four New Jersey moderates who had faced more liberal challengers.
Women Democrats won spots on the November ballot in key House races in Iowa, New Jersey, Montana and New Mexico, continuing a trend that began earlier this year.
Voters in five more states, Nevada, Maine, North Dakota, South Carolina and Virginia, on June 12 will choose candidates for their states' November congressional races.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California and Joseph Ax in Princeton, New Jersey; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)