West Region Roundup

California Poised to Send at Least 8 New Members to Congress

Posted October 7, 2012 at 11:00pm




Gov. Sean Parnell (R)

Electoral Votes: 3
2008 Presidential Vote:
McCain 59%/Obama 38%


At-large |
Incumbent: Don Young (R)

19th term (69 percent) |
Outlook: Safe Republican

The biggest news Young made this cycle was endorsing Rep. Mazie Hirono in the Hawaii Senate Democratic primary. That had no effect on Young’s own GOP primary, which he won with 79 percent, and he should win with ease against state Rep. Sharon Cissna (D).


Gov. Jerry Brown (D)

Electoral Votes: 55
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 61%/McCain 37%


Incumbent: Dianne Feinstein (D)

3rd term (59 percent) | Outlook: Safe Democratic

Feinstein is strongly favored to win re-election against Republican Elizabeth Emken, an autism activist and former Congressional candidate. Neither national party is targeting the race, and almost no outside money has been spent.

Winning statewide races remains a challenge for Golden State Republicans, who were unable to topple Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) even in 2010, a Republican wave year.


1st district | Open Seat: Wally Herger (R) is retiring.

Outlook: Safe Republican

After emerging from the top-two primary with a Democratic opponent, state Sen. Doug LaMalfa should easily win this solidly Republican district and keep the seat in Republican hands. He faces attorney and 2010 nominee Jim Reed.

2nd district | Open Seat: Lynn Woolsey (D) is retiring.

Outlook: Safe Democratic

This race was essentially decided in the top-two primary, when investment adviser Dan Roberts (R) advanced in this heavily Democratic district along with state Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D). In what would have been one of President Barack Obama’s best-performing districts in 2008, Huffman will have no trouble in this redrawn, coastal Northern California seat.

3rd district | Incumbent: John Garamendi (D)

2nd term (59 percent) | Outlook: Leans Democratic

Garamendi’s district received one of the biggest presidential performance changes of any incumbent in the state, and it moved in the wrong direction for him. However, President Barack Obama still would have won this district handily, and Democrats hold a voter registration advantage.

The Congressman’s opponent, Colusa County Supervisor Kim Vann, is a top recruit of the National Republican Congressional Committee and is sure to give Garamendi a run for his money. But there has been a dearth of polling since the June primary. Only two Democratic polls in July and August have been released, and both had Garamendi up by double digits.

7th district | Incumbent: Dan Lungren (R)

4th term (50 percent; previously served five terms) | Outlook: Tossup

This rematch between Lungren and physician Ami Bera is taking place in a Sacramento-area district that became more Democratic-friendly after redistricting.

Lungren is in his second Congressional stint and is coming off two straight victories with 50 percent of the vote or less. If he’s proved anything over the years, it’s that he’s a survivor. But this could be his toughest test yet.

Outside groups from both parties are pouring money into this tossup district, where registered voters are split about evenly between the two parties. Bera’s fundraising prowess and Democrats’ willingness to dump resources into the race make it probable that it will, at the very least, be closer than in 2010.

8th district | New Seat

Outlook: Safe Republican

Retiring Rep. Jerry Lewis (R) doesn’t live here, but the candidate pool remained dry until Lewis announced he would not run in this new district, which includes part of his current territory.

The race for the new district is essentially an establishment-vs.-tea-party affair between two Republicans, Assemblyman Paul Cook and Gregg Imus, a homebuilder and volunteer border patroller as co-founder of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps of California. Both advanced in the crowded top-two primary with less than 16 percent of the vote.

Cook is backed by the two Congressmen whose districts this new one was carved out of, Lewis and Buck McKeon, as well as California Reps. Darrell Issa, Mary Bono Mack, Ed Royce, Jeff Denham and Ken Calvert. Imus is backed by former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain and Rep. Tom McClintock.

9th district | Incumbent: Jerry McNerney (D)

3rd term (48 percent) | Outlook: Leans Democratic

This San Joaquin County-based territory is Democratic-leaning, and President Barack Obama would have carried it by double digits. McNerney’s challenger is Ricky Gill, a 25-year-old recent law school graduate who has turned in a succession of impressive fundraising quarters and was given a coveted speaking slot at the Republican National Convention.

The trouble for Gill is that the redrawn district, which now includes all of Stockton, has become more Democratic than it was during McNerney’s three prior victories. But Gill’s internal polling in late July showed that he was closing the gap.

The district lean has not stopped Republicans from spending money here – the National Republican Congressional Committee dropped a $460,000 independent expenditure Sept. 21, and more outside money is expected in the closing weeks.

10th district | Incumbent: Jeff Denham (R)

1st term (65 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

Like some of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, Denham’s district got slightly more difficult for him and is now swing territory. He also landed a prized Democratic recruit in astronaut Jose Hernandez.

This Stanislaus County-based district leans Republican – President Barack Obama would have barely carried it in 2008, and Republicans would have won it in the 2010 Senatorial and gubernatorial elections. But both sides view this as a battleground. It’s been one of the top recipients of independent expenditure dollars, with more than $2 million by the end of September.

Medicare has been a messaging point for both campaigns, but Hernandez has emphasized his personal story – the son of a migrant farm worker in the Central Valley who went on to become an engineer and astronaut. Neither wants to be seen as the partisan in this swing seat.

15th district | Incumbent: Pete Stark (D)

20th term (72 percent) | Outlook: Safe Democratic

Stark, the dean of the California Democratic Congressional delegation, is in jeopardy of losing the general election to a fellow Democrat. He hasn’t been held to 55 percent in a race since 1980, but thanks to the state’s new primary process, Stark’s competition did not end after the primary.

Dublin City Councilman Eric Swalwell, almost 50 years younger than Stark, is determined to oust the 20-term incumbent, who entered Congress in 1973 after knocking off a 14-term incumbent. During the primary, Swalwell was underfunded and working a full-time job as an Alameda County prosecutor. He would run to a restaurant at lunch to make fundraising calls, and instead of running radio ads, he and volunteers knocked on 30,000 doors.

Swalwell finished just 6 points behind Stark in the primary. Stark has had to battle through some curious verbal gaffes, including having to apologize for accusing Swalwell of taking bribes, which could ultimately cost him the election.

21st district | New Seat

Outlook: Safe Republican

This Central Valley district was once expected to be among the top battlegrounds in the state. But Democrats missed on several candidates and ended up with an underfunded and underwhelming one in John Hernandez. Assemblyman David Valadao (R) is expected to win here with ease, although the district’s vitals make it a potential competitive target in the future.

24th district | Incumbent: Lois Capps (D)

7th term (58 percent) | Outlook: Leans Democratic

Capps’ former district was referred to as the “Ribbon of Shame” for its blatant gerrymandering, but the independent redistricting process this time put her in a competitive district for the first time since 2000. After a decade of safe races, she’s now one of the GOP’s top three incumbent targets in the state and running against a top Republican recruit in former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado.

The incumbent currently has the edge, but the National Republican Congressional Committee and U.S. Chamber of Commerce combined to spend more than $500,000 on the district in September alone. The advertising and polling the NRCC paid for will be the test for whether the needle is moving in Maldonado’s direction in this Democratic-leaning district.

26th district | Open Seat: Elton Gallegly (R) is retiring.

Outlook: Tossup

This race offers a pure political test, with two strong and well-funded candidates running in a swing district. After their first recruit dropped out in February, Democrats scored with Assemblywoman Julia Brownley. They needed a solid candidate against state Sen. Tony Strickland, who represents much of this Ventura County-based district in Sacramento.

He’s shooting for the middle and has a list of votes he’s taken that break from his party, including on renewable energy. However, Brownley is painting him as just another Republican supporting a “radical agenda” and a consistent “right-wing” vote in the Legislature.

Thanks to a third-party candidate in the primary, this was an attractive target for outside groups as far back as May. The final weeks of the race will be no different, as both national party committees and outside groups from across the spectrum are playing here.

29th district | New Seat

Outlook: Safe Democratic

Rep. Howard Berman (D) was drawn into the neighboring 30th district and opted not to run in this Hispanic-majority district. Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cardenas (D) will win this with ease.

30th district | Member Vs. Member: Brad Sherman (D) and Howard Berman (D)

8th term (65 percent); 15th term (70 percent) | Outlook: Safe Democratic

If it were a Capitol Hill popularity contest, Berman would likely be headed for a runaway victory. But the 15-term lawmaker, who’s never won with less than 60 percent of the vote, is facing significant geographic and demographic disadvantages against Sherman in this San Fernando Valley district.

The question hanging over the high-
profile race is how Berman, the overwhelming favorite among the California delegation and Hollywood royalty, picks up ground in a redrawn district that includes far more of Sherman’s current territory. Although Berman has continued to argue he’s the more effective lawmaker, there’s been no evidence since the primary that he’s made progress.

In the general election, potentially more than two times as many voters will participate than voted in the low-turnout, seven-candidate all-party primary June 5, when Sherman outperformed Berman by 10 points.

Among the portions of the three old districts that constitute the new 30th, Sherman won the part of the redrawn district that he currently represents – which accounted for nearly half the total vote – 49 percent to 25 percent, and the area carved out of Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D) district 41 percent to 29 percent. Berman won his current territory 49 percent to 32 percent.

“All along, the race has been about geography,” Sherman consultant Parke Skelton said in June.

31st district | Incumbent: Gary Miller (R)

7th term (62 percent) | Outlook: Safe Republican

A potential Democratic pickup turned into a lost cause when the party’s top candidate, Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, finished third in the top-two primary. Miller, who has never represented any of this territory, is now fighting for his political life in a swing district against a fellow Republican, state Sen. Bob Dutton.

A race between two Republicans in a district where about 40 percent of registered voters are Democrats is unpredictable to say the least. Miller is receiving help. He had Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in town on his behalf in late August, and the National Association of Realtors’ political action committee continues to pour resources into the district.

Dutton took some more moderate positions than Miller in a late September forum. A run to the middle could make sense in a district where Democrats will likely still be motivated to get to the polls to support President Barack Obama.

36th district | Incumbent: Mary Bono Mack (R)

7th term (52 percent) | Outlook: Leans Republican

Democrats have claimed over and over in recent cycles that this will be the time they defeat Bono Mack. But she has continued to win by comfortable margins.

Well, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is now spending money here on behalf of physician Raul Ruiz and is bullish on his chances. The difference this year, Democrats say, is Bono Mack is running against a Hispanic candidate with a great personal story. Featured a couple of years ago on CNN, Ruiz knocked on doors in his community asking for donations to help him attend UCLA with a promise that he would return one day as a doctor, which he did.

Still, defeating Bono Mack in this Coachella Valley district remains an uphill climb for Ruiz.

41st district | New Seat

Outlook: Leans Democratic

This Inland Empire district is one of Democrats’ best pickup opportunities in the state, though heading into the final month it remained a battleground. Rep. Ken Calvert (R) currently represents much of this area but was drawn into the neighboring 42nd district.

Mark Takano (D), a Riverside Community College board trustee, twice challenged Calvert in the early 1990s, but he is now running for an Open Seat in more friendly territory for Democrats. His opponent is Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione (R), who received outside help from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in late September.

In a district where voter registration is split almost evenly between the two parties, both candidates have emphasized their willingness to work across the aisle.

44th district | Member Vs. Member: Janice Hahn (D) and Laura Richardson (D)

1st term (55 percent); 2nd term (68 percent) | Outlook: Safe Democratic

There have been few signs of a competitive race in this majority-minority district in south Los Angeles between two sitting Members of Congress. Both entered Congress through special elections, but only one will make it out of the first cycle of California’s newly competitive landscape.

It is widely believed that person will be Hahn, who is backed by the mayor, a majority of the city council, the state party and the California Labor Federation. Meanwhile, ethics issues continue to plague Richardson. The House officially reprimanded Richardson on Aug. 2 for, the House Ethics Committee stated, likely violating both House rules and federal law by requiring official staff to work on her campaign and obstructing the ensuing investigation. She was fined $10,000.

With Hahn and Richardson being the only two candidates running, the June top-two primary acted as a dry run for the general election. Hahn took 60 percent of the vote.

47th district | New Seat

Outlook: Likely Democratic

This district, spread across Long Beach and Orange County, leans too far Democratic for this race between two strong candidates to be rated more competitively in a presidential cycle. State Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D) has a built-in advantage over Long Beach City Councilman Gary DeLong (R), who has known all along that he would need to pick up a significant share of Democrats to win.

If any Republican fits this district, it’s DeLong. He informed GOP leadership early on that his socially moderate views don’t always align with the party. So far, though, there has been no evidence that he’s been able to gain enough ground, and neither national party has spent money here.

An internal Lowenthal campaign poll conducted in mid-August showed both Lowenthal and President Barack Obama ahead by at least 20 points.

51st district | Open Seat: Bob Filner (D) is running for San Diego mayor.

Outlook: Safe Democratic

The road to Congress was cleared for state Sen. Juan Vargas (D) in the June top-two primary, when former state Sen. Denise Moreno Ducheny (D) finished third and failed to advance. This is Vargas’ fourth bid for this San Diego-based, Hispanic-
majority district, which includes the state’s entire border with Mexico. He faces Michael Crimmins (R), who lost challenges to Rep. Susan Davis (D) in 2008 and 2010.

52nd district | Incumbent: Brian Bilbray (R)

3rd term (57 percent; previously served three terms) | Outlook: Tossup

Bilbray is one of the top Republican targets in the state after his district was redrawn and the GOP voter registration edge shrank. Democrats got the candidate they wanted in San Diego Port Commissioner Scott Peters, who has self-funded a significant portion of his campaign.

Outside groups and both national party committees had combined to spend more than $2.7 million here by the end of September. The fight is on for the “decline to state” voters, who make up more than a quarter of the electorate.

Peters and Bilbray have locked horns over who really doesn’t support cuts to entitlements and Bilbray’s support for the House Republican budget plan. Bilbray and national Republicans have hit Peters for his tenure on the city council during San Diego’s pension crisis.


Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D)

Electoral Votes: 4
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 72%/McCain 27%


Open Seat: Daniel Akaka (D) is retiring.

Outlook: Likely Democratic

Rep. Mazie Hirono (D) was never in much danger in the primary against former Rep. Ed Case (D), and a potential general election battle with former Gov. Linda Lingle (R) has not made this seat any more vulnerable than it was at the start of the cycle.

National Republicans put on a full-scale recruitment pitch for Lingle, the only Republican who could possibly put this seat in play with President Barack Obama on the ticket. She’s sold herself as a balance for the delegation, a perfect partner for Sen. Daniel Inouye (D), so that Hawaii will be well-represented no matter which party is in power.

But the needle has not moved in the right direction for Republicans. The race has not even successfully expanded the map enough to force national Democrats to spend money here. Hirono should win this rare open-seat opportunity.


2nd district | Open Seat: Mazie Hirono (D) is running for Senate.

Outlook: Safe Democratic

Former Honolulu City Councilwoman Tulsi Gabbard (D) won the competitive August primary and is expected to easily defeat David Crowley (R), a smokers’ rights activist, in this heavily Democratic district.


Gov. Brian Sandoval (R)

Electoral Votes: 6
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 55%/McCain 43%


Incumbent: Dean Heller (R)

1st term (appointed May 2011) | Outlook: Tossup

The race for the former seat of scandal-scarred Sen. John Ensign (R) remains a tossup, despite Rep. Shelley Berkley’s (D) ethics issues and Heller’s votes in both the House and Senate in favor of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget plan.

Both Heller and Berkley, who hail from different regions of the state, have their disadvantages here, but the outcome will likely depend on how the presidential race shakes out in Nevada. The state is crucial to President Barack Obama’s re-election plans and Republicans’ hopes of winning the Senate.

Washoe, the state’s second-largest county and home to Reno, holds the key to this seat. Heller, who was appointed to the Senate after Ensign resigned in May 2011, must win the county by a significant margin for any hopes of serving a full term. He hails from neighboring Carson City.

In turn, Berkley has to keep it close there, which is why she’s spent much of her time on the campaign trail introducing herself to Washoe voters. Berkley represents Las Vegas in Clark County, which is about 450 miles south of Reno – or one-sixth the length of the entire country.

Republicans were quick to jump on the Ethics Committee investigation into Berkley, while Democrats have offered Heller’s votes for the GOP budget as evidence he would not protect Medicare.


1st district | Open Seat: Shelley Berkley (D) is running for Senate.

Outlook: Safe Democratic

Former Rep. Dina Titus (D) is heavily favored to win this open, heavily Democratic, Las Vegas-based district. State Sen. Ruben Kihuen’s (D) exit from the race in early February cleared the path for Titus’ return to Congress two years after her defeat to Rep. Joe Heck (R) in the neighboring 3rd district.

3rd district | Incumbent: Joe Heck (R)

1st term (48 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

The freshman won his first bid for Congress by just 1 point in a strong year for Republicans nationwide, and his district remains swing territory after redistricting. He faces state Speaker John Oceguera (D) in a battleground district for which outside groups and both national parties are investing significant funds.

The top of the ticket is overshadowing this race, as Nevada is playing a crucial role in the control of both the White House and Senate. The outcome of those races could also help decide this one.

There has been standard messaging in this race, including Democrats hitting Heck on women’s issues. Republicans have highlighted Oceguera’s fire department salary and pension as well as his record in the state Assembly.

4th district | New Seat

Outlook: Leans Democratic

State Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford (D) is favored to win this new district, which expands north from North Las Vegas and takes in parts of seven counties. The overwhelming majority of voters are in Clark County, a benefit to Horsford.

However, polling through the end of September continued to show him in a competitive race with 2010 Senate candidate Danny Tarkanian (R). That can be tied to Tarkanian’s uniquely high name recognition, given his past political campaigns and his father’s high-profile job two decades ago as coach of the national champion University of Nevada, Las Vegas, basketball team.

Horsford still has the edge in this
Democratic-friendly district, but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has certainly taken notice and helped pay for a TV ad on Horsford’s behalf. Still, Democrats hold a 30,000 voter registration advantage, and President Barack Obama would have carried the district with 56 percent in 2008. It has 23 percent Latino and 14 percent African-American voting-age populations.


Gov. John Kitzhaber (D)

Electoral Votes: 7
2008 Presidential Vote | Obama 57%/McCain 40%


5th district | Incumbent: Kurt Schrader (D)

2nd term (51 percent) | Outlook: Safe Democratic

This is the most competitive district in the state, but it would be a shock for Schrader to lose this in a presidential year after surviving GOP-friendly 2010 with a 5-point victory. His opponent is businessman Fred Thompson (R) – not the actor and former Tennessee Senator.

Gov. Christine Gregoire (D)

Electoral Votes: 12
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 58%/McCain 41%


Incumbent: Maria Cantwell (D)

2nd term (57 percent) | Outlook: Safe Democratic

Cantwell should enjoy a comfortable victory over state Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R). Unlike 2010, when Sen. Patty Murray’s (D) seat was vulnerable, neither national party is looking at this race, and President Barack Obama’s coattails will provide an extra cushion.


1st district | Vacancy: Jay Inslee (D) resigned to run for governor.

Outlook: Leans Democratic

In the state’s most competitive district, Democrats gained the upper hand when former Microsoft executive Suzan DelBene (D) advanced along with Snohomish County Councilman John Koster (R) in the August top-two primary.

DelBene’s personal infusion of $1.9 million fueled her successful primary campaign against fellow Democrats, who, in terms of general election competitiveness, either lacked her fundraising ability or may have been too liberal for this district. It will be difficult for Koster to paint DelBene that way.

This is a matchup between two unsuccessful 2010 candidates: Koster lost to Rep. Rick Larsen (D) for the second time in the 2nd district, and DelBene lost to Rep. Dave Reichert (R) in the 8th district. Given the district’s split between suburban and rural, Democratic and Republican areas, this will likely remain a race to watch.

6th district | Open Seat: Norm Dicks (D) is retiring.

Outlook: Safe Democratic

State Sen. Derek Kilmer (D) has the clear advantage in this race to replace the 18-term Member. That’s especially true in a presidential election cycle, when the environment is not ideal for a GOP win in this district.

While neither national party appears likely to spend here, neither needs to. Kilmer is a strong fundraiser, and his opponent, Bill Driscoll (R), has the ability to self-fund. Driscoll had already loaned himself $500,000 before the August primary.

Still, less than a month out, this race has yet to emerge onto the national competitive landscape.

10th district | New Seat

Outlook: Safe Democratic

This new Olympia-based district was drawn as a pickup opportunity for Democrats, and former state House Majority Leader Denny Heck (D) is expected to follow through on that. He faces Pierce County Councilor Dick Muri (R), who lost to Rep. Adam Smith (D) in 2010.