LOS ANGELES (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Garcia claimed victory Friday in his back-and-forth contest with Democrat Christy Smith in the 25th District north of Los Angeles, a Southern California battleground that Democrats had captured just two years ago.

In a statement, Garcia said “victory is clear,” given the votes remaining uncounted.

The Associated Press has not declared a winner in the race.

Smith said Garcia's assertion of victory was premature and “dangerous to our democratic process."

With thousands of ballots uncounted, "this race remains too close to call,” Smith said in a statement.

Garcia, a former fighter pilot, captured the vacant swing district in a May special election following the resignation of Democratic Rep. Katie Hill in 2019.

The race represented a sharp contrast for voters.

Garcia, a former Navy combat pilot, ran as an unabashed supporter of President Donald Trump and promised to work for tax cuts and a strong military. Smith, a state Assembly member, has been critical of the president and promised to deliver better health care.

A Republican win in the Democratic-leaning district would mark another bright spot for Republicans in the heavily Democratic state. Republicans earlier picked off two Democratic-held House seats in the state, even in a year when Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump in California in a landslide.

Garcia, a top graduate at the U.S. Naval Academy, flew over 30 combat missions in Operation Iraqi Freedom and later worked in the defense industry. Smith is a former school board member.

Not long ago, the 25th District was reliable conservative terrain. But like much of California, it has grown gradually more Democratic. Hillary Clinton carried the district by nearly 7 points in the 2016 presidential election.

It’s the kind of suburban district both parties coveted in the fight to control the House.

Hill stepped down in 2019 after acknowledging an affair with a campaign worker. The House opened an ethics probe into an allegation that she was intimately involved with a member of her congressional staff, which Hill denied.

Hill had won the district as part of a 2018 rout for Democrats, when the party seized seven Republican-held House seats that year in California. At the time, the 25th District had been the last GOP-controlled House seat anchored in Los Angeles County.

The GOP in California has been withering away for years, and the party was hoping for a turnaround in 2020. Candidates statewide sought to make California’s lopsided government a defining issue, faulting the dominant Democrats for the homeless crisis plaguing big cities, high taxes and coronavirus orders that shuttered businesses and closed gyms, beaches and parks.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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