Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

And they're off! California 2014 House races already underway

The 2012 election was only five months ago, but already California's congressional freshmen are off and running for 2014.
The 2012 election was only five months ago, but already California's congressional freshmen are off and running for 2014.
Grant Slater/KPCC

It seems Californians cast ballots in 2012 Congressional races only a few weeks back, but the race for 2014 has already begun.

This week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee unveiled its list of 26 vulnerable incumbents the party will support with fundraising and outreach support. DCCC Chairman Steve Israel says the so-called "Frontline Program" will "multiply members’ strengths, and make sure they are positioned to compete and win.”

Of the 26, five are California members of Congress: four freshmen—Ami Bera of Sacramento, Julia Brownley of Ventura, Scott Peters of San Diego, and Raul Ruiz of Palm Springs—plus incumbent Lois Capps of Santa Barbara.

The National Republican Congressional Committee says it's "playing offensive" in the upcoming off-year election. The NRCC picked 45 Democrats to target, including seven in California.

The NRCC list includes the five Californians on the DCCC list—Bera, Brownley, Peters, Ruiz, and Capps—plus Democrats John Garamendi of Davis and Jim Costa of Fresno. Liesl Hickey, NRCC's executive director, says "the Democrats’ hopes of winning in 2014 continue to rest on quicksand."

Freshmen the most vulnerable incumbents

Citizen-drawn district lines that created more competitive races and the new "jungle" primary that allows the top two primary vote-getters to face off in the general election helped send 14 California freshmen to Congress in 2014.

Redrawn lines gave Capps a district that is barely majority Democratic. Her party's 38.2 percent registration is only slightly better than the Republicans' 35.5 percent; "decline to state" voters are 21.6 percent of the district's registration total.

Redrawn district lines also prompted veteran GOP Congressman Gary Miller to jump from Orange County to San Bernardino County, where he beat a fellow Republican in November. But in a district that's majority Democratic, he's got a giant bull's eye on his back. Andy Stone of the Democratic political action committee, the House Majority PAC, calls Miller "the most endangered Republican incumbent in the country.”

Election season starting earlier than usual? Yes and no.

Daniel Scarpinato of the NRCC says it's earlier than the last election cycle because no one knew what the new districts would look like. He says candidates jumped into races later than usual in 2012. And because the party not holding the White House has traditionally picked up seats in an off-year election, Scarpinato says Republicans see several seats as "particularly winnable."

Political science professor Marc Sandalow says Congressional races are "typically nonstop," though much of the activity is usually conducted behind the scenes. But the Supreme Court's Citizen's United decision that unleashed unlimited amounts of campaign fundraising may also have unleashed perpetual political campaigns. Sandalow says when "the potential for raising money is so important," it’s more important to say publicly that the campaign is underway.