2012 Target Races – Part Three: Congress

Allan Hoffenblum
Publisher of the California Target Book and owner of Allan Hoffenblum & Associates

This year, California is looking at the largest number of competitive races for Congress this state has seen in decades. And the outcome could possibly determine which political party controls the House of Representatives after November.

President Obama and Senator Dianne Feinstein will most certainly carry California in their races for reelection.

However, how well the “top of the ticket” performs in each of the ten races below that the Target Book has labeled as a target could be a major factor in determining who wins.

When voters fill out their ballot for the November 6 General Election, they will first vote for President, followed by U.S. Senator, followed by Representative in Congress. If their first vote is for Obama, followed by Feinstein, I would not want to be the Republican looking for that third vote. The same could be said for a Democratic candidate, should Romney carry the district.

That’s why the Presidential campaign in California this year has meaning.

TARGETS

3rd Congressional District (Rural and suburban areas west of Sacramento County): Incumbent Democrat John Garamendi is seeking reelection in a new district that includes less than a quarter of the voters who reside in his old district (CD10). His Republican opponent is Colusa County Supervisor Kim Vann. The pro-choice political moderate served as a staff member for former GOP Rep. Doug Ose. Brown outpolled Whitman 50% – 43%, while Fiorina was able to edge out Boxer 46% – 45%. Both political parties and Super PACs have already started playing heavily in this district.

7th Congressional District (Suburban Sacramento County): Incumbent Republican Dan Lungren is facing his third consecutive tough campaign for reelection. His Democratic opponent is Indian American Ami Bera, a physician who challenged Lungren in 2010, losing 50% – 43%, with three third-party candidates receiving a combined 7% of the vote. That year, Lungren’s district had a 41% – 37% GOP registration advantage; the new district is showing a 39% -39% parity. Bera is a prolific fundraiser ($1.4 million cash as of June 30), which helped placed this race at the top of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC) target list.

9th Congressional District (San Joaquin and eastern Contra Costa counties): Incumbent Democratic Jerry McNerney moved into this new district to run for reelection, which includes a little more than half of the voters who reside in his old district (CD11). Brown outpolled Whitman 51% – 43%, while Boxer narrowly outpolled Fiorina 47% – 45%. This district would likely not be a target were it not for Republican Ricky Gill, a 25-year-old Indian American and recent law school graduate who has raised nearly $2 million, most coming from Indian-American donors from across the country (the same can be said for Democrat Ami Bera in CD7).

10th Congressional District (Central Valley): Incumbent Republican Jeff Denham moved into this new district. His Democratic opponent is Jose Hernandez, a self-described political moderate and former NASA astronaut whom national Democratic leaders, including President Obama, encouraged to run. The DCCC is now running TV spots attacking Denham. However, with Whitman outpolling Brown 49% – 43% and Fiorina outpolling Boxer 52% – 39%, the district has a GOP bias.

24th Congressional District (San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties): Incumbent Democrat Lois Capps is facing off against former Lt. Governor Abel Maldonado, who represented large portions of this district in both the state Assembly and Senate. Capps is seeking reelection in a district that includes 63 percent of the voters who reside in her old district (CD23). But, whereas her old district had a 20-point Democratic registration advantage, this new district has just a 3-point Democratic registration advantage. Maldonado is still having problems with conservative activists within the district who are upset with his vote to pass a state budget that included higher taxes, but the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is solidly behind his candidacy.

26th Congressional District (Coast Ventura County and L.A. County’s Westlake Village): Incumbent Republican Elton Gallegly represented 73 percent of the voters in this new district, but he is retiring, making this an open and highly competitive seat.  The first to announce was GOP state Senator Tony Strickland, whose current senate district encompasses 70 percent of the voters in this new congressional district. The DCCC recruited termed out Assembly Member Julia Brownley to run in this district, though her home was in Santa Monica, which is several miles out side the district (She has moved).  Strickland, the sole Republican on the June 5 Open Primary, was easily the top vote getter with 44% of the vote. To assure that Brownley would come in second to Strickland, the DCCC and their political allied had to spend over $1 million dollars in support of Brownley and in opposition to Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks, a former Republican and political moderate who ran as a No Party Preference candidate. This will be a big bucks campaign and a Brownley win would be a Democratic pickup.

36th Congressional District (Riverside County): Incumbent Republican Mary Bono Mack is seeking reelection in a new district that encompasses 75 percent of voters in her current district (CD45). Her opponent is Democrat Raul Ruiz, an emergency room physician at Eisenhower Medical Center. In the June 5 Open Primary, Bono Mack outpolled Ruiz 58% – 42%. However, Ruiz, the first Latino Democrat to challenge her, has proven to be an effective fundraiser ($850,000 as of June 30), which has encouraged the DCCC to run radio and TV spots attacking Bono Mack.

41st Congressional District (Northwest Riverside County): Most (64%) of the voters in this new district were represented by Republican Ken Calvert, but he is seeking reelection in the new much safer 42nd District, making this an open seat. Democrat Mark Takano, an openly gay Japanese American, is a member of the Riverside Community College and an elementary school teacher. Two decades ago, he twice ran unsuccessfully against Calvert. The Republican is Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione. His supervisorial district neatly overlaps much of this new congressional district. This district has a Democratic bias, with Brown outpolling Whitman 51% – 40% and Boxer outpolling Fiorina 49% – 42%. But the NRCC, believing the more moderate Tavaglione a better fit to a majority of voters in this district than the more liberal Takano, has targeted the race. It also overlaps the targeted 31st Senate District (Rep. Jeff Miller vs. Dem. Richard Roth) and the targeted 61st Assembly District (Dem. Jose Medina vs. Rep. Bill Batey). A Takano win would be a Democratic pickup.

47th Congressional District (L.A. County’s city of Long Beach and adjacent portions of Orange County): Democratic incumbent Laura Richardson resided in this new district but she is seeking reelection in neighboring CD44, making this an open seat. On the Democratic side is termed out state Senator Alan Lowenthal, whose district overlaps the Long Beach portion of this new district. His opponent is Republican Gary DeLong, a member of the Long Beach City Council. A self-described political moderate, DeLong is pro-choice and supports gay marriage.  The district has a Democratic bias, with Brown outpolling Whitman 50% – 42%, while Boxer outpolled Fiorina 49% – 42%. But Lowenthal, who has represented Long Beach in the state Senate and Assembly and six years on the city council, received only 34% of the vote in the June 5 Open Primary. A DeLong win would be a Republican pickup.

52nd Congressional District (Downtown San Diego, Coronado): Incumbent Republican Brian Bilbray is seeking reelection in a new district that includes 41 percent of the voters who reside in his current district (CD50).  His Democratic opponent is Scott Peters, a member of the San Diego Board of Port Commissioners and former member of the San Diego City Council. Bilbray, who had four Republican opponents running against him in the June 5 Open Primary, received only 41% of the votes cast. Peters came in second by outpolling former Democratic Assembly Member Lori Saldaña 23% – 22%. The DCCC, placing this race at the top of their target list, is currently running TV spots attacking Bilbray, while the NRCC is running TV spots attacking Peters.

WATCH

21st Congressional District (Central Valley): Over 75 percent of the voters reside in Democratic Rep. Jim Costa’s current district, but he is seeking reelection in the new 16th District, making this an open and highly competitive district. The Republican is Assembly Member David Valadao, a managing partner of his family’s dairy farm. The DCCC, hoping to target this seat, recruited Fresno City Councilman Bion Xiong, a Hmong American (Laos) to enter the race, even though no part of the city of Fresno falls within the district. Though he raised and spent over $300,000, by a margin of 585 votes, he came in third behind Democrat John Hernandez in the June 5 Open Primary, who raised and spent less than $30,000. Valadao came in first with 57%. This should be a competitive race, but it does not appear that Hernandez, who is executive director of a local Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, can raise the dollars needed to run a competitive race and the DCCC, as of now, does not appear to be interested in assisting him. Meanwhile, the NRCC has purchased over $200,000 for airtime to run TV spots is support of Valadao during the last two weeks before Election Day.

33RD Congressional District (West Los Angeles, Palos Verdes Peninsula/South Bay beaches): Incumbent Democrat Henry Waxman is running in a new district where half of the voters are new to him, primarily those in Palos Verdes and the South Bay Beaches. No fewer than seven candidates challenged Waxman in the June 5 Open Primary, including Bill Bloomfield, a wealthy Manhattan Beach developer and former Republican who ran as a No Party Preference candidate. Waxman was the top vote getter, though the longtime incumbent received only 45% of the vote. Coming in second was Bloomfield, who spent just under $1.4 million and being the sole NPP candidate that was able to outpoll a Republican candidate on the same ballot. Bloomfield is again spending big bucks with TV spots running on cable channels throughout the district. On paper, this is safe Democratic district, with Brown and Boxer receiving 55% of the vote in 2010, while Obama carried the district with 64% in 2008. However, Waxman is taking the campaign seriously and plans to aggressively fight back the challenge.

NEXT: Twenty-eight same party runoffs.

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