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Campaign fundraising starts for Jeff Denham even before he's sworn in as Congressman

California's newest GOP member of Congress, Jeff Denham.
California's newest GOP member of Congress, Jeff Denham.
Kitty Felde/KPCC

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California’s newest members of Congress - Republican Jeff Denham, R-Fresno, and Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, will take the oath of office tomorrow in the U.S. Capitol. Denham is being criticized for hosting a fundraiser at a posh hotel tonight as his party is trying to project a more austere image. But Denham’s not the only one who’s raising campaign cash for next year.

If you’ve got $50,000 sitting around, you could get eight VIP tickets to hear country music celebrity LeAnn Rimes at the W Hotel across from the White House.

Denham organized the fundraiser for fellow GOP freshmen already thinking about re-election.

Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters says one way to raise “cred” and "rise up in the hierarchy is raise money for other candidates."

Walters says that’s how Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, quickly rose through the ranks to become Republican Majority Whip.

Denham’s not the only one raising campaign cash. Bass, is the one other congressional freshman with her own political action committee.

Walters says that’s because the stakes for California members are higher: their districts are going to be redrawn by an independent redistricting commission.

"So they’re all going to have to sweat re-election."

Walters says fixing the gerrymandering done during the last redistricting means some members will find themselves running in very different districts.

"One of the ways you gird yourself up for that," he says, "is to raise a lot of money so that when the push and shove times come and your neighbor next door and you wind up in the same district, you’ve got five times as much money as he or she does, you can kind of say 'get out of the way, don’t try to run against me because I’ve got a lot of money in the bank.'”

It’s a bit like musical chairs. U.S. Census numbers mean no new Congressional seats for California. So incumbents will be fighting it out in 2012 in a very expensive election state.