What a difference a week makes. Just a week ago Roll Call carried an article that with GOP Assemblyman Tim Donnelly in the runoff with Gov. Jerry Brown, Democrats would score big wins in Congressional races in California. But after Tuesday’s election, it now looks as through Republicans, not Democrats, might make congressional gains in California.
First, Donnelly is not in the runoff; Neel Kashkari is. Kashkari, son of Indian immigrant parents, will have some ability to win over middle class Latinos and Asians that the GOP has lost in droves in recent elections. This will help down ticket Republicans running in seats with high Latino and Asian populations.
Republicans will, however, have to deal with losing one congressional seat right out of the box, District 31, that of retiring Rep. Gary Miller in San Bernardino County. Democrat Pete Aguilar barely made the runoff this time (he lost it in 2012) and will win the seat in the fall. Republicans needed two Republicans in the top two this cycle as they got in 2012; they did not get it and the seat is just too Democratic.
But some Democrats elected in 2012 showed real weakness in the primary. In the 52nd district, San Diego Democratic Rep. Scott Peters won just 42 percent running unopposed in the primary. He will face former Councilman Carl DeMaio in November. Republican DeMaio received 36 percent and two other Republicans split the rest. This continues a trend away from the Democrats in this part of San Diego. DeMaio carried this congressional district in his 2012 campaign for San Diego mayor, and the current Republican mayor, — Kevin Faulconer won the area handily in his election this year.
The next best shot is District 26, Ventura County, where incumbent Democrat Rep. Julia Brownley won just 46 percent to 45 percent for her Republican challenger, Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, with eight percent going to another Republican. Gorell needs a fall turnout model close to 2010 where Meg Whiteman slightly outpolled Gov. Brown and Carly Fiorina slightly out polled Sen. Barbara Boxer. Having Kashkari atop the ticket helps because they can appeal to middle class Latinos of whom there are a lot in this district.
In Sacramento’s District 7 former GOP Congressman Doug Ose will take on freshman Democrat Ami Bera. Republican Ose was far and away the most electable of the three Republicans in the primary. This was a close district in 2010 with Brown winning handily but Fiorina beating Boxer. Jerry Brown will do very well here in November, so Ose has to figure a way to run well ahead of the Brown vote.
Finally, in Riverside’s District 36, Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz actually showed considerable strength in the primary taking half the primary votes. But the GOP candidate, Assemblyman Brian Nestande, fits the district well and GOP registration is relatively high here.
It is important not to read too much into the primary returns – the general election turnout model is different. Republicans ran strongly in the 2012 primary but got clobbered in the fall. That was because of the huge turnout of younger voters and Democrats in the presidential year general election. The general election turnout rose from 31 percent in June to 72 percent in November.
In 2010, however, the primary turnout was 33 percent and rose only to 60 percent in November. This year the primary turnout will end up at about 25 percent, with low turnout in both Democratic and Republican counties. The general election turnout will probably only reach about twice that, or 50 percent. The two party turnout ratio will move a bit in the Democrats direction, but perhaps not that much given the general lack of interest in this election year.
Democrats already suffered one bit of bad luck. They were planning to target three GOP-held districts in addition to the Miller seat, but one of them has already slipped from their reach. In CD 25, where Rep. Buck McKeon is retiring, the Democrat ran third and so it is an all GOP contest in November.
High on the Democratic list is District 21 in the Central Valley, which President Obama carried with 55 percent in 2012. But incumbent Republican David Valadeo won handily that year and in the 2014 primary received 64 percent to just 25 percent for the much touted Democrat Amanda Renteria. This is another district that performed well for Republicans in 2010 with Fiorina beating the liberal Sen. Boxer by 11 points. Again it is a mistake to over read the primary results, but the dynamics of 2014 would not seem as helpful for the Democrats in this district as they were in 2012, and that 39 point gap in the primary shows that Valadeo starts out with significant crossover appeal.
Just to the north, Modesto GOP Rep. Jeff Denham received 59 percent in the 2014 primary in CD 10, much better than his showing in the 2012 primary. He too survived in 2012 in a district carried by President Obama with 51 percent. The Democratic performance in the non-presidential year 2010 was 10 points lower, and with the severe drought Democrats are not particularly popular in the Central Valley right now.
The chance for big Democratic gains in California now seems to have passed with Donnelly’s elimination; and with some breaks this fall the Republicans could actually gain a seat or two.