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The U.S. Capitol building and Congressional office buildings are seen from the air over Washington, D.C. Some freshman lawmakers use the couches in these office buildings as a home away from home. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
One of the challenges facing California’s 14 Congressional freshmen is where to live in D.C. Democrat Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach sent his wife out to look for housing. Mark Takano, a Democrat from Riverside, found an apartment within walking distance of the Capitol.
But more than a few members choose to sleep on a couch… in their office. Republican Doug LaMalfa of Redding will be joining an estimated 75 members who camp out in their offices when Congress is in session. After a day's work and perhaps dinner with colleagues, he says, you can "read up on some of the legislation or some of the things coming down the pike. You can read yourself to sleep."
LaMalfa, who’s leaving his family back in California, says he wants to get a “real world feeling” about the way Congress works before he commits to a residence. He says a bad decision could be expensive and a “pain in the rear” to get out of.
California Congressman Dan Lungren is leaving Capitol Hill, but taking a special memory with him.
California is sending 14 freshmen to Congress. It will be a busy week for the new kids on the Hill.
The official swearing in isn’t until Thursday. That’s when the phones get turned on, emails are assigned, websites are launched, and new members are officially allowed to start moving into their offices.
Republican Congressman Jeff Denham of Fresno, who starts his sophomore term in 2013, says the best piece of advice old timers gave him was to document those first crazy days.
"Everything in that first couple of weeks happens so quick," he says. "If you don’t have things documented or pictures, you forget a lot of it."
Back in 1979, then-freshman member Dan Lungren took a picture of his kindergarten-age son sitting at his Congressional desk. He recreated the same shot last week.
Democrat Raul Ruiz unseated Republican incumbent Mary Bono-Mack in a Coachella Valley district that includes Palm Springs.
It’s been nearly two weeks since Californians cast their ballots, but it finally looks as though all 53 of the state’s Congressional races have winners, including three races that had been too close to call.
All three races went to Democratic challengers. California’s Secretary of State says absentee and provisional ballots have put emergency room doctor Raul Ruiz more than 7,800 votes ahead of Palm Springs incumbent Republican Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack.
Another physician, Sacramento’s Ami Bera, defeated 17-year incumbent Dan Lungren by 5,600 votes. Bera isn’t surprised Californians voted out the incumbents. He says there's "a real sense of frustration with this last Congress and their inability to address the issues that face our nation."
Down in San Diego, incumbent GOP Congressman Brian Bilbray has conceded to port commissioner Scott Peters, who is more than 5,000 votes ahead.
The results mean California's Republican delegation has shrunk from 19 members to 15.
Officially, the races won’t be certified until mid-December. But all three Democrats will return to Washington next week for round two of freshman orientation.
It has been nearly a week since the election, but California still does not know who is going to Capitol Hill in two Congressional districts.
But California voters will be sending at least 11 new members of Congress to Washington, D.C. That is nearly 20 percent of the delegation.
But two races are too close to call.
In San Diego, incumbent Republican Congressman Brian Bilbray is trailing Democrat Scott Peters, a Port of San Diego Commissioner, by 1,300 votes, based on the latest count. San Diego County is still counting mail-in and provisional ballots.
Near Sacramento, incumbent GOP Congressman Dan Lungren is trailing his Democratic challenger, physician Ami Bera, by more than 1,700 votes.
A screen capture of a Democratic Committee television advertisement against Republican U.S. representative Mary Bono Mack. Both political parties have allotted $9 million to California races, including advertisements like this one.
Daniel Scarpinato with the Republican committee says three factors affect spending decisions: the quality of the candidate, poll numbers, and where Democrats are spending their money. He says the GOP is paying more attention to what is the other side is doing, "and how’s it going to affect our decisions."
Jesse Ferguson with the Democratic committee says redistricting has presented his party with an embarrassment of riches: "The map has changed and we have a tremendous number of opportunities across the state." It allows them to go on the offensive, targeting those same three Republican Congressmen the GOP wants to protect — Lungren, Denham, and Bilbray — plus try to unseat Mary Bono Mack in Palm Springs. (Story continues below video window.)
But Republicans have also stepped up their offensive game, targeting three Democratic incumbents: freshman Congressman John Garamendi near Sacramento, Jerry McNerney in the Central Valley and Lois Capps in Santa Barbara.
Democrats are not spending party money to defend incumbents in those races — at least not yet.
The Democratic committee is putting money into a Long Beach race for an open seat, backing Alan Lowenthal, who nosed out GOP challenger Gary Delong in the June primary by just three percentage points.
In two other open seats, dollars are pouring in from both sides. In Ventura County, the Republicans are sending money to Tony Strickland; Democrats to Julia Brownley. In the Inland Empire, the GOP is supporting John Tavaglione; the Democrats are backing Mark Takano.
In addition to TV ads, Scarpinato says Republicans have found another effective way to get the video message out: advertise on the website Hulu: "You might reach more people on Hulu now than you might with a cable television buy."
Democrats are reserving TV time in Sacramento, as well as Palm Springs and even Los Angeles. But Ferguson says the party is putting a chunk of change on its ground game, getting voters to the polls. He stresses that it's a Democratic priority, "particularly in California because it’s not a state that President Obama has to spend a lot of his time and money to turn out the vote."
Of course, the combined $17 million — so far — from the Republican and Democratic committees isn’t the only money being spent on California races. Millions more are pouring in from political action committees. The flood of cash guarantees one thing: lots of TV ads for Congressional candidates dominating the screen for the final four weeks of the campaign.