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Democrats See Golden Pickup Opportunities in California

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As Democrats look hungrily at the eight California districts that voted for Barack Obama in 2008 but are represented by the GOP in Congress, many strategists have come to the conclusion that Reps. Dan Lungren, Ken Calvert and Mary Bono Mack are the most vulnerable Republicans in the Golden State delegation — for now.

But the list of Republican targets in California remains a work in progress, one that will be affected by political events in the state and in Washington, D.C., Democratic recruiting, and, to a surprisingly large extent, early speculation over the next round of redistricting. Democrats also believe that if Obama remains relatively popular in 2010, some of California’s Congressional Republicans will choose to head for the exits rather than continue to serve in a deep minority.

“I would think in a state with 53 seats, somebody at some point may say, ‘I’m not running again,’” said Bob Mulholland, a consultant to the California Democratic Party. “Then that seat becomes a priority.”

Because Obama did so well in California — winning 61 percent of the vote statewide and carrying 42 of the 53 Congressional districts — and because voter registration in many of those districts is trending in their direction, Democrats feel they have a serious chance to increase their 34-19 advantage in the delegation next year (including one vacancy in a safe Democratic district). Without any help from the national party, a few no-name Democrats came very close to ousting well-entrenched House Republicans last year, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is poised to do all it can to win those seats this cycle. Picking up seats in her home state will also be a priority of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

“California’s unemployment rate is in double digits and the state has been hit hard by the housing crisis, yet out of touch Republican Members have repeatedly voted against measures to help save and create jobs and restore the economy,” said DCCC spokesman Andrew Stone, previewing a line of attack that will be used against Golden State GOP incumbents in the months to come.

But the theory can also be turned on its head: By largely ignoring California last year, and because Obama won’t be on the ballot in 2010, did Congressional Democrats blow a golden opportunity that can’t be recaptured? After all, Republicans are now aware that some of their incumbents are in jeopardy, and they will be mobilizing to shore up those seats.

“I think it’s facetious to say that just because Barack Obama won these districts that these Members of Congress are suddenly vulnerable,” said Jon Fleischman, a vice chairman of the California GOP.

And Joanna Burgos, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, predicted that Democrats will not be able to sustain their level of popularity, particularly in swing districts.

“Democrats have tried numerous times to challenge Republican incumbents in California, but our Members continue to succeed, even during some of the toughest cycles,” she said. “The moderate voters in these areas will not react well to Democrats’ wasteful spending, tax hikes or debt pile-on. With the economy the way it is, American families will side with fiscally responsible Republicans who will keep the Democrats accountable for their current reckless spending spree.”

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