Updated at 7:20 p.m. ET
Republican Mike Garcia has been projected the winner of a special election for a California U.S. House seat, according to the Associated Press, giving the GOP a victory in a district that slipped away from them in the 2018 Democratic wave election.
Democratic candidate Christy Smith had conceded earlier on Wednesday, as large numbers of votes submitted by mail continue to be tallied, but Smith conceded with Garcia leading by more than 17,000 votes, or 12 percentage points.
"While it's critical that we ensure every vote is counted and recorded, we believe that the current tally shows Mike Garcia is the likely victor in the May 12 special election," Smith said in a statement posted online. "As such, I'd like to congratulate him."
Garcia's win in Tuesday's special election garners him the seat representing California's 25th Congressional District, which he will hold through the end of the year. In November, Garcia and Smith will once again face off for a full two-year term.
The seat was left vacant by former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill, who resigned last year because of a personal scandal.
Garcia's win in the Southern California district comes after the first competitive congressional race during the coronavirus pandemic. The virus has paralyzed the global economy, stunted Americans' work and social lives, and disrupted many of the traditional methods of political campaigning.
California has been under a formal stay-at-home order since March 19, issued by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.
As a result, the special election in the 25th District became a primarily mail-in ballot race.
Many Republicans, including President Trump, have criticized, without evidence, the voting option as particularly susceptible to voter fraud. And they've said mail-in voting is somehow unfavorable to their party.
But Garcia's apparent triumph in a district won by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016 might make more Republican leaders open to mail-in voting, as the deadly coronavirus drives fears over how to safely conduct voting in November.
Newsom last week signed an executive order requiring a ballot be sent to every registered voter in the state this November.
Garcia beat out Democrat Smith with promises to shake up the Washington status quo and with an emphasis on his time in the military as a Navy fighter pilot.