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Hotly contested political races on Capitol Hill

U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) has his eye on the chairmanship of the House Science Committee.
U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) has his eye on the chairmanship of the House Science Committee.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

It's election season in Congressional districts all over California where 53 seats are up for grabs. But some of those lawmakers are also scrambling for votes 3.000 miles away in Washington, DC.  They're trying to move up the leadership ladder.

California loses one powerful Republican leader next year when Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier retires. As a number of other House members step down, run for another office, or are defeated in the general election, several top jobs at House committees are opening up.

A pair of Orange County Congressmen are putting their names forward as committee chairmen, should the GOP retain control of the House.

Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach has a great interest in international affairs.  He's been critical of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, saying he heads "a corrupt clique."  President Karzai doesn't much like Representative Rohrabacher: he denied him entry to Afghanistan recently. 

So you might imagine Rohrabacher would want the top job at the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Not so. "I understand that there are those would prefer someone who is a little more diplomatic than I am to be the head of that committee," he says.  "I am very active and sometimes in your face with things I believe in, though I try to be courteous to everyone."

Instead, Rohrabacher has his eye on the top job at the House Science Committee. He says the definition of science is trying to discover truth and to that end, he would invite both sides and be open-minded about having "an honest discussion about areas of disagreement" — like global warming.

Rohrabacher says he believes there's been change in the climate, but he's skeptical that mankind is responsible. 

Another area the Science Committee covers is space exploration. The Orange County Republican is a huge space booster, but not necessarily of boosting NASA's budget. Rohrabacher believes in increasing private investment in American space efforts. 

Irvine Congressman John Campbell is also looking for more responsibility. He currently sits on the House Financial Services Committee and the House Budget Committee. He'd like to head the latter.  The top Republican on the Committee now is Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. If Ryan becomes Vice President, Campbell says he's ready to step in.

The Budget Committee, unlike most others, has term limits. Unless you can get special dispensation from the Speaker, most members are allowed to only serve four terms. Campbell says that makes him a senior member, "unlike other committees where it takes 20 years to move up the ranks."

Campbell says as chairman, he'd implement many of the budget goals outlined by Ryan, with one exception: defense spending. "We certainly don't agree on everything," Campbell says, "but my wife doesn't agree with me on everything either." 

Campbell says he believes there's waste in the defense budget and the U.S. could maintain its current role  "for less money." Campbell cites the number of civilian employees currently working with the military — 900,000 vs. 1.3 million uniformed personnel. And that doesn't include contractors.

Campbell says decisions about possible savings — whether used to further reduce the deficit or for other purposes — is part of budget negotiations.  Though Campbell says Mitt Romney would like more ships for the Navy.

One Southern California Republican Congressman could be looking for a new leadership position. Darrell Issa of Temecula has been the prominent head of the very visible Oversight and Government Reform Committee.  He's taken on the Attorney General for the Department of Justice's handling of the gun-running investigation known as "Fast and Furious."

But now that Congress has passed a two-year transportation bill, Congressman John Mica of Florida, who currently heads the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is looking for new territory.  He told Politico he'd like the opportunity to run Oversight and Government Reform where he'd have more seniority than Issa.

So how do committee chairs get selected? Seniority is the biggest factor, but Rohrabacher says you also have to convince more than a dozen members of the Republican Steering Committee. Candidates get to make their pitch and answer questions before the vote. That won't happen until after the November election.  But it's never too early to drop hints, make a few phone calls, and let the media know you're interested in the job.

Democrats are also likely to shuffle leadership seats. Now that ethics allegations have been swept away, 11-term Congresswoman Maxine Waters would likely be in line for becoming the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee. 

And if Democrats surprise the pundits and take back the House, Henry Waxman of Los Angeles would regain the chairmanship of Energy and Commerce, George Miller of the East Bay town of Martinez would again take over Education, and Lakewood's Linda Sanchez would be the top cop on the House Ethics Committee.