Early Look at Campaign 2014: Part 1 – Congress

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

We are one year away from the November 2014 General Election, and the California Target Book, which I publish, just printed its fall edition, analyzing and handicapping the upcoming races in California for congress and the state legislature.

It is much too early to pinpoint with any accuracy where all the targeted races will be, but I can share with you as to which races, as of now, we believe have the most potential of being target races.

Part one is covering congress; part two will cover the state Senate and Assembly; and part three will cover open seats and likely same party runoffs.

CONGRESS

We all know the mood of the electorate today – and it is not pretty – but there is no certainty what the mood of the electorate will be next November, or what issues will be determinate in how voters cast their vote for Congress.

But that hasn’t stopped the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the campaign arms of House Democrats and House Republicans, from making early public announcements as to what they believe will be targets for 2014.

DCCC TARGETS

The DCCC has what it calls its Jumpstart program, which provides early financial and strategic support to key Democratic candidates challenging Republican incumbents next year. Nineteen candidates have been selected nationwide, and three are running in California.

CD10 (R-DENHAM): This district was a top target in 2012 and Jeff Denham was the sole incumbent Republican congressman in California who defeated a challenger in a district both Obama and Feinstein carried. The DCCC candidate was Democrat José Hernandez, a former NASA astronaut who had no roots in the district, which the Denham campaign was able to effectively exploit. This time around, they are supporting Michael Eggman, a beekeeper, almond farmer and brother of Democratic Assembly Member Susan Eggman. This district has a large and growing Latino voting population, and Denham was the first Republican member to publicly come out in support of the immigration reform plan sponsored by House Democrats. It also helps that he is married to a Mexican American and speaks fluent Spanish.

CD21 (R-VALADAO): This was an open seat in 2012, won by then GOP Assembly Member David Valadao, a dairy farmer from Hanford. The DCCC wanted to target this race, but was not able to recruit a strong candidate. Valadao’s opponent was Democrat John Hernandez, then president of the Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Hernandez received only 42% of the vote, while Obama carried the seat with 55%.

The DCCC this year is strongly supporting Latina Amanda Renteria, until recently chief of staff to U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) while the Senator was chair of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. Renteria is originally from the small town of Woodlake (Tulare County), located just outside the district. She and her husband now reside in Sanger, where she is currently working as a substitute teacher at the local high school. However, Valadao is a proven campaigner and, like Denham, has come out in support of immigration reform. Also, Renteria and her supporters must keep an eye out for Hernandez, who has filed to run again.

CD31 (R-MILLER): Gary Miller represents the strongest Democratic district occupied by a House Republican, both Obama and Feinstein carrying the district handily (57% – 59% respectively). After redistricting, Miller found himself living in the same district as GOP incumbent Ed Royce. But rather than challenging Royce, he choose to move into this new San Bernardino County district, made open due to GOP incumbents David Dreier and Jerry Lewis not seeking reelection.  The DCCC strongly supported Redlands City Councilmember Pete Aguilar. But he came in third in the June Top Two Primary behind Miller and the second Republican on the ballot, Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton. This resulted in a same-party runoff in November with no Democrat on the ballot.

This time around, the DCCC is again backing Aguilar.  But three other Democrats are in the race: former Rep. Joe Baca, who was defeated for reelection in 2012; Eloise Gomez Reyes, a Latina attorney; and Danny Tillman, an African American, who is a member of the San Bernardino School Board. The DCCC is supporting Aguilar; however, EMILY’s List, in a rare split with the DCCC, is supporting Reyes.  The Baca campaign, as of now, appears to be going nowhere, with Sept. 30 FEC campaign reports showing his campaign with less than $37,000 cash on hand. Tillman is not expected to be a serious contender. Next year Miller will be the sole Republican running, which guarantees that this time around Miller, if he’s one of the top two vote getters in the June Primary, will face a Democrat in the November runoff.

DCCC WATCH LIST

CD25 (R-McKEON): GOP Rep. Buck McKeon will have to give up his powerful chairmanship of the House Armed Services Committee at the end of his current term and there has been serious speculation that he will not seek reelection in 2014. This would open up the seat to a long list of likely Republican candidates. The district should remain in the Republican column, though, like so many districts in the state, the growing Latino population is causing the district to trend Democratic and we are going to keep this race on our watch list.

NRCC WATCH LIST

Earlier this year, the NRCC released their list of top targets for 2014 and no California district was on the list. But there are five California districts that they are watching very closely, and the five are the Republican-held districts that swung into the Democratic column in 2012.

CD7 (D-BERA): In 2012, Democrat physician Ami Bera, making his second run against then incumbent Republican Dan Lungren, successfully outpolled Lungren 52% – 48%, following a bruising multi-million dollar campaign by each side.

Three Republicans have announced their candidacy to run in the 2014 June Primary. The best known among the three is Doug Ose, a moderate Republican who served in Congress from 1999-2005, when he voluntarily gave up his seat. In 2008, he attempted a political comeback in a neighboring district to succeed GOP Congressman John Doolittle, who did not seek reelection that year. He was defeated in the June Primary by Tom McClintock in what became a nasty campaign. Now Ose will face Igor Birman, a young Russian Jewish immigrant who is chief of staff to McClintock. McClintock is chairing Birman’s campaign and Birman has received the endorsement of FreedomWorks, a Super PAC that supports fiscally conservative candidates. The third candidate is Elizabeth Emken, who was the 2012 Republican challenger to Senator Dianne Feinstein, losing 62.5% – 37.5% statewide, but receiving 47% of the vote in this district. The question is will the top Republican vote getter in the Top Two June Primary be able to bring together the differing factions within the party to be able to mount an effective challenge to Bera.

CD26 (D-BROWNLEY): Former GOP incumbent Elton Gallegly retired in 2012, making this an open seat. Democratic Assembly Member Julia Brownley brought the new district into the Democratic column by narrowly defeating then state Senator Tony Strickland 53% – 47%.  Strickland has announced his candidacy to make another run for this seat. However, there is talk that should Republican Rep. Buck McKeon retire next year, Strickland may choose to run for that seat. If so, Republican Assembly Member Jeff Gorell is mentioned as a possible candidate, though Gorell has publically made statements that he prefers to run for reelection to his Assembly seat.

CD36 (D-RUIZ): Emergency room physician Raul Ruiz defeated GOP incumbent Mary Bono 53% -47% in a hard fought, bitter and very expensive race. Bono had been able to beat back serious challenges in the past. However, this district has a growing Latino population, and unlike Bono’s prior Democratic opponents, Ruiz was the first Latino to challenge her. Ruiz’s GOP challenger this year is expected to be GOP Assembly Member Brian Nestande. In 1994, Nestande managed Sonny Bono’s successful congressional campaign and subsequently served as his chief of staff in Washington D.C. After the congressman’s death in a skiing accident, he managed Mary Bono’s campaign to succeed him, and then served as her chief of staff until 2000. This is a very competitive district, won by Obama in 2012 (51% – 47.5%) and by Meg Whitman for Governor in 2010 (49% – 43%).

CD52 (D-PETERS): Former San Diego Councilmember Scott Peters put this seat in the Democratic column by narrowly defeating incumbent Republican Brian Bilbray (51% – 49%), again in hard fought, bitter and very expensive 2012 race. For 2014, the NRCC has come out in support of Carl DeMaio, a former member of the San Diego City Council. In 2012, DeMaio, who is openly gay, narrowly lost a hard-fought campaign last year for mayor of San Diego, won by former Democratic Rep. Bob Filner 51.5 – 48.5. (Filner was forced to resign as mayor after being charged with sexually harassing three women.)

DeMaio, who is a strong fiscal conservative, but pro-choice on abortion and supports gay marriage, will be facing two other Republicans in the June 2014 Top Two Primary: Kirk Jorgensen, a former Marine who has been endorsed by former GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter, the former chair the House Armed Services Committee; and Dr. Fred Simon, a wealthy Coronado physician currently practicing general surgery who kicked off his campaign with a $400,000 personal loan. This race will remain on everyone’s watch list depending on the outcome of the Primary race.

OTHER SEATS BEING WATCHED

Two Democratic-held seats that the NRCC attempted unsuccessfully to bring into the GOP column in 2012 are being watched, but not yet as closely as those above.

CD3 (D-GARAMENDI): Redistricting placed Democratic incumbent John Garamendi into a district that included fewer than a quarter of the voters of his old district. Believing him to be too liberal for this new district, the NRCC gave early support to Colusa County Supervisor Kim Vann, a political moderate who received 46% of the vote. The first GOP candidate to announce for 2014 is Assembly Member Dan Logue, currently the Chief Whip of the Assembly GOP Caucus.

CD24 (D-CAPPS): This district has a Democratic bias, but is not safe. Democratic incumbent Lois Capps was able to beat back a serious challenge in 2012 from former Lt. Gov. Able Maldonado, winning 55% – 45%. The only Republican to file a statement of candidacy in 2014 is Chris Mitchum, who came in third behind Capps and Maldonado in the 2012 Top Two Primary. Mitchum, a tea party favorite, is the son of the late movie star, Robert Mitchum. However, there are others looking to get into the race.

Part Two next week: State Senate and Assembly races.

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