Voters in eight states choose candidates in battle for U.S. Congress

SACRAMENTO, Calif./PRINCETON, N.J. (Reuters) - Establishment-backed Democrats muscled past liberal challengers in key New Jersey congressional races on Tuesday, results showed, as voters in eight U.S. states, including crucial California, chose candidates for November's midterm elections.

Democrats, buoyed by President Donald Trump's poor approval ratings and a string of victories in special elections, hope to gain a majority in the 435-seat U.S. House of Representatives by flipping 23 seats this fall. The party has targeted more than a dozen Republican-held seats in California and New Jersey alone.

"I don't think the Democrats can take the House without New Jersey," said Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University.

Control of the House would likely derail or stall much of Republican President Donald Trump’s policy agenda, while ushering a new era of committee oversight and investigation into the administration.

A power shift would also lend strength to any potential effort to impeach Trump if Democrats decide grounds exist, either by virtue of the ongoing probe of Russia election interference by special counsel Robert Mueller or other reasons.

33 PHOTOS
Trump's tweets about the Mueller Russia probe
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Trump's tweets about the Mueller Russia probe
So disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were “leaked” to the media. No questions on Col… https://t.co/T2n7SAWgJp
There was no Collusion (it is a Hoax) and there is no Obstruction of Justice (that is a setup & trap). What there i… https://t.co/WU8JFuWLJi
House Intelligence Committee rules that there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump Campaign and Russia. As I have bee… https://t.co/n4809kuVx3
Just Out: House Intelligence Committee Report released. “No evidence” that the Trump Campaign “colluded, coordinate… https://t.co/3erasoPL4N
This memo totally vindicates “Trump” in probe. But the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on. Their was no Collusion an… https://t.co/GPYj4JbKgN
It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened! Witch Hunt!
This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!
You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history - led by some very bad and conflicted people! #MAGA
“Russians had no compromising information on Donald Trump” @FoxNews Of course not, because there is none, and neve… https://t.co/R9sniNq1ar
Congratulations to @ABC News for suspending Brian Ross for his horrendously inaccurate and dishonest report on the… https://t.co/wEVP4iGN6n
The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was base… https://t.co/oMCKEA7WmJ
The 13 Angry Democrats in charge of the Russian Witch Hunt are starting to find out that there is a Court System in… https://t.co/W32TtSNOrw
A must watch: Legal Scholar Alan Dershowitz was just on @foxandfriends talking of what is going on with respect to… https://t.co/EZ7cdgtUUo
A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!
A complete Witch Hunt!
The Russia Witch Hunt is rapidly losing credibility. House Intelligence Committee found No Collusion, Coordination… https://t.co/MMfLEunjG6
The single greatest Witch Hunt in American history continues. There was no collusion, everybody including the Dems… https://t.co/j7rc1QKCLw
James Comey Memos just out and show clearly that there was NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION. Also, he leaked classif… https://t.co/YfMYBrTkza
As the phony Russian Witch Hunt continues, two groups are laughing at this excuse for a lost election taking hold, Democrats and Russians!
...case against him & now wants to clear his name by showing "the false or misleading testimony by James Comey, John Brennan..." Witch Hunt!
The MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN agenda is doing very well despite the distraction of the Witch Hunt. Many new jobs, high business enthusiasm,..
Jared Kushner did very well yesterday in proving he did not collude with the Russians. Witch Hunt. Next up, 11 year old Barron Trump!
When James Clapper himself, and virtually everyone else with knowledge of the witch hunt, says there is no collusion, when does it end?
My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!
Despite the phony Witch Hunt going on in America, the economic & jobs numbers are great. Regulations way down, jobs and enthusiasm way up!
A total WITCH HUNT with massive conflicts of interest!
Is this Phony Witch Hunt going to go on even longer so it wrongfully impacts the Mid-Term Elections, which is what… https://t.co/7LtsbGyV80
The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was base… https://t.co/oMCKEA7WmJ
Much of the bad blood with Russia is caused by the Fake & Corrupt Russia Investigation, headed up by the all Democr… https://t.co/eA1AtTPv49
“Special Council is told to find crimes, whether a crime exists or not. I was opposed to the selection of Mueller t… https://t.co/KYsOPqiVBG
I have agreed with the historically cooperative, disciplined approach that we have engaged in with Robert Mueller (… https://t.co/yjSuYhmzJb
Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans? An… https://t.co/wKNAVhWJcz
If I wanted to fire Robert Mueller in December, as reported by the Failing New York Times, I would have fired him.… https://t.co/wi7FDNjqK7
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In southern New Jersey, where the retirement of a longtime Republican incumbent gave Democrats an opening, state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, a conservative Democrat, appeared set to prevail over left-leaning candidates frustrated by his past votes against same-sex marriage and minimum wage increases.

His Republican opponent was not yet clear late on Tuesday, with several candidates splitting the vote.

In a suburban New Jersey district, former Obama official Tom Malinowski was well ahead of two Democrats backed by independent liberal groups and will take on the moderate Republican Leonard Lance in what is expected to be a competitive race.

Democrats also hope to capture two other Republican-held seats in the state.

Like New Jersey, California is seen as key to the eventual outcome in November. Democrats have taken aim at 10 of the 14 House seats held by Republicans.

Tuesday's contests will determine whether Democratic candidates in the swing districts are moderate or more liberal, as well as whether they are shut out of some races altogether.

The state's so-called jungle primary system allows the two highest vote-getters to advance to the general election, regardless of party.

The battle for the top spots is particularly dramatic in the 48th Congressional District, where voters chose Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump in the 2016 presidential election but re-elected longtime Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher.

So many Democrats are vying to challenge Rohrabacher that there is a chance they will divide their party's vote, setting up a general election fight between the incumbent and a leading Republican opponent, Scott Baugh.

In California's gubernatorial primary, Democratic Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom is considered the front-runner in a 27-candidate race for an open seat.

If Republican John Cox wins the second spot on the ballot, his presence in the race could spur Republican turnout in November and possibly improve the party's chances in congressional races.

10 PHOTOS
Nationalist protests in California
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Nationalist protests in California
Demonstrator Johnny Benitez (L) faces off with peace activist Jared Hughes during an America First rally in Laguna Beach, California, U.S., August 20, 2017. REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker
REFILE - QUALITY REPEAT A demonstrator faces off with a counter-protester during an America First rally in Laguna Beach, California, U.S., August 20, 2017. REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker
Demonstrator Johnny Benitez pumps his fist into the air during an America First rally in Laguna Beach, California, U.S., August 20, 2017. REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker
Demonstrators protest during an America First rally in Laguna Beach, California, U.S., August 20, 2017. REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker
Police officers separate demonstators during an America First rally in Laguna Beach, California, U.S., August 20, 2017.REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker
Demonstrators and counter-protesters face off during a protest at the America First rally in Laguna Beach, California, U.S., August 20, 2017. REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker
Demonstrators and counter-protesters face off during the America First rally in Laguna Beach, California, U.S., August 20, 2017. REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker
Demonstrators face off with counter-protesters during an America First rally in Laguna Beach, California, U.S., August 20, 2017. REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker
Counter-protester Ediie Velasquez protests during an America First rally in Laguna Beach, California, U.S., August 20, 2017. REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker
Demonstrators and counter-protesters face off during an America First rally in Laguna Beach, California, U.S., August 20, 2017. REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker
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But if Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa, a former mayor of Los Angeles, makes the final cut, Republican leaders worry more of their voters will stay home in November, giving Democrats a better chance to flip some seats.

Trump in a series of Tuesday tweets backed Republican candidates.

"In High Tax, High Crime California, be sure to get out and vote for Republican John Cox for Governor. He will make a BIG difference!" Trump tweeted.

Republicans control both chambers of Congress. While Democrats need only a net total of two seats to take command of the Senate, Democratic senators must defend a bevy of seats in rural states such as Indiana, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia that supported Trump two years ago.

Voters on Tuesday also went to the polls to choose candidates in primaries in Iowa, Mississippi, Alabama, Montana, South Dakota and New Mexico.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California, and Joseph Ax in Princeton, New Jersey; Additional reporting by James Oliphant; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Cynthia Osterman)

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