2014 is here — an election year! It’s just six months until California’s mid-term Congressional primary in June. Fifty-three seats are up for grabs, though the number of competitive races is considerably smaller than it was two years ago.
The 2012 elections brought 14 new California members to Congress. That’s because of citizen-drawn district lines and new primary rules that allow the top two finishers to face off in November, regardless of party.
This year will likely be a lot calmer. There are perhaps half a dozen races in California that are prime targets for the Democratic and Republican parties. At the top of the list:
Gary Miller in California’s 31st district, described as "the most vulnerable incumbent on the Republican side." Political analyst David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report calls Miller’s win two years ago in a majority Democratic district “a fluke.” He says Miller’s not just the most vulnerable GOP Congressman in California, he’s the most vulnerable Republican member in the country.
Daniel Scarpinato with the National Republican Congressional Committee admits it's a "tough seat." But he’s not ready to write the race off just yet. "The Democrats have screwed this seat up in the past for themselves," said Scarpinato, "and they’re managing, I think, to do that again" with a "really crowded" primary.
In 2012, Miller ran in a newly-drawn San Bernardino district rather than face fellow Republican Ed Royce for the Fullerton seat. Four Democrats were on the ballot in the June primary and they split the vote. So two Republicans ended up on the November ballot in a district with a majority of Democratic voters.
Four Democrats are again running against Miller in 2014, but Democrats are determined not to repeat the past. Emily Bittner with the Democratic National Congressional Committee says her group has already picked its candidate: Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar. She says Mayor Aguilar has done a "tremendous job representing the people of Redlands and we believe he’s a strong candidate."
Bittner insists Democrats learned their lesson in 2012. But Emily’s List has endorsed Eloise Reyes, and former Representative Joe Baca is touting his numerous endorsements from current members of Congress — though only two are from California.
If Republicans are worried about holding onto Miller’s seat, Democrats are concerned about the Palm Springs seat of freshman Congressman Raul Ruiz. Ruiz, who defeated Republican Mary Bono two years ago, has raised more than a million dollars for his campaign warchest.
Scarpinato says Ruiz is the GOP’s top target in California. "He doesn’t have an identity really back in his district yet and I think what most people know about him is that he supports Obamacare," Scarpinato says. "And that’s a problem for him."
Expect the Affordable Care Act to come up in most political ads in 2014.
Bittner says Ruiz’s GOP opponent, state assemblyman Brian Nestande, has his own problem: fundraising. She says Nestande has "been somewhat of a dud" for the GOP. She cites public criticism from the national Republican party aimed at Nestande, who served as chief of staff to the previous two Republicans who represented Palm Springs. Last month, the GOP’s campaign committee added Nestande to its “Young Guns” program, promising him national cash if he can meet key benchmarks.
There will be at least one new face on Capitol Hill: Irvine Republican John Campbell is retiring. It’s a safe Republican seat, with the GOP making up 45% of the electorate. But Jack Pitney, political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, says this may be the last time it’s reliably Republican. "In the longer run," he says, "we’re going to see considerable change in the OC." Pitney describes Orange County as "far from the stereotype" with a majority minority population that is as diverse economically as it is demographically.
But it’s highly unlikely the switch will happen in 2014. So far, four candidates have thrown their hats into the ring to replace Campbell; all of them are Republicans.
And it remains to be seen whether Santa Clarita Republican Howard "Buck" McKeon will seek another term. Candidates are lining up to run should McKeon decide to retire.