THE TARGET RACES
Prior to the November 6, 2012 General Election, the California Target Book, which I publish, identified ten congressional districts, four state senate districts and six assembly districts as targets.
These are twenty districts that both political parties – and several of their like-minded independent expenditure committees – spent serious dollars in an attempt to win those seats.
The Democrats won 19 of the 20, resulting in the defeat of three GOP members of Congress, the defeat of an Orange County GOP member of the Assembly, along with Democrats winning supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature.
A major factor contributing to these Democratic wins was that either President Obama, U.S. Senator Feinstein or both were able to outpoll their Republican opponents in all twenty of the targeted races.
The only GOP win among the targeted races was by Congressman Jeff Denham (CD10, San Joaquin Valley), who narrowly outpolled Democrat José Hernandez, a former NASA astronaut, 53% – 47%. Denham was also the sole Republican incumbent being challenged by a Democratic opponent who won a district that was carried by both Obama and Feinstein. This seat will most likely again be a top target in 2014.
THE BIGGEST UPSET OF 2012
Without a doubt, the biggest upset of 2012 was the win by Democrat Steve Fox over Republican Ron Smith in the 36th Assembly District, which is located primarily in northern Los Angeles County’s Antelope Valley.
In a district that both Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina carried in 2010, Smith, a member of the Lancaster City Council, was heavily favored to defeat Fox, an attorney who had run for the Assembly in 2008 as a Republican, coming in a distant third behind Steve Knight in a three-candidate GOP Primary. He re-registered as a Democrat in 2009.
However, the district’s changing demographics played a key role in this upset win. The district has only a 1-point 38% -37% GOP registration advantage. Combined this with the continuing growth among the African American, Latino and Asian population (over 60% of the total population according to the 2010 census), and you have anything but a safe GOP district. For this reason, the Target Book placed this race on our “watch list.”
But Smith, believing the November runoff election to be perfunctory, all but halted his campaigning following the Primary. The result was that Fox, who spent only $21,000, eked out a victory by a margin of 145 votes. His victory can also, in part, be attributed to Obama and Feinstein also carrying this district by similar small margins.
REDISTRICITNG AND THE TOP TWO PRIMARY
For the first time, new district lines were drawn not by the state legislature or by the courts, but by the new Citizens Redistricting Commission created by the passage of Propositions 11 in 2008 and Proposition 20 in 2010. With the passage of Proposition 14, partisan primaries were scraped and replaced with the new Top Two Primary, where the top two vote getters in the June Primary – regardless of political party – face each other in a November runoff.
Together, this led to the largest number of open seats in recent history, resulting in fourteen new members being elected to Congress and 38 new members being elected to the Assembly.
The new Top Two Primary resulted in 56 candidates in 28 districts running against a candidate from their own party in November.
The one most watch by political outsiders was the congressional battle between incumbent Democrats Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, which Sherman won decisively 60% – 40%.
But 2012 also saw incumbent Democrat Joe Baca defeated by Democratic state Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod, assisted by a $3 million independent expenditure effort by a super PAC funded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, motivated by Baca’s supposed opposition to gun control.
The other old bull to go down was Democratic Congressman Pete Stark, who was first elected to Congress in 1972 at the age of 41 by defeating 14-term octogenarian Democratic Congressman George Paul Miller. Stark, himself, was defeated this year by 31-year-old fellow Democrat Eric Swalwell, an Alameda County deputy district attorney and member of the Dublin City Council.
In San Bernardino County, incumbent Republican Congressman Gary Miller was able to defeat fellow Republican Bob Dutton, the former state Senate Republican Leader. This was a district that the Democrats had on their early target list, but their favored candidate, Redlands City Councilmember Pete Aguilar, failed to make the top two in the Primary. Obama and Feinstein carried this district 57% and 59% respectively and it will surly be on top of the Democratic target list in 2014.
SUPER PACS AND INDEPENDENT EXPENDITURE COMMITTEES
Last, but far from least, was the involvement in the key races for congress, state Senate and Assembly by a multitude of super PACs and independent expenditure committees.
The Target Book goes into detail on this spending district by district, but for this article I am just going to report on their combined spending.
In the state Senate, a combined $9.3 million was spent in 7 separate races.
In the Assembly, a combined $13.3 million was spent in 19 races.
In Congress, an unbelievable $40.8 million – let me repeat – a total of $40.8 million was spent in eleven races, with eighty-nine percent of that money being spent in opposition to a candidate.
Enough on 2012. I’ll be back in the Spring to list my early picks of the potential target races for 2014.