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Call it a California gold rush, with a twist.
Rather than excavate wealth from the Golden State, third-party groups are dousing California with dollars ahead of its June 5 primaries. Some $2.4 million in independent expenditures has been spent on Golden State House primaries so far this cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The overall outside spending total is actually higher than that, as issue advocacy advertising media buys are not reported to the FEC.
Nonpartisan redistricting, retirements and a modified primary format introduced newfound competition across the state’s Congressional landscape, from Eureka to San Diego. It’s turned a state relegated in recent years to a fundraising hotbed for candidates from everywhere else into a target for spending all its own.
“For a state that is orphaned from the presidential, and frankly from the U.S. Senate [races] this year, the fact that 20-25 percent of the state is in a very competitive Congressional district is really what’s going to drive the political conversation and spending out here,” Republican consultant Rob Stutzman said.
There were a few close races last cycle, when $5.6 million in independent expenditures was spent ahead of the general elections. But in the past decade, just one of California’s 53 districts has switched party control.
That will change this year, with a dozen or so competitive districts in play. So far, most of the independent expenditures have come in a handful of districts with unique primary situations, including a high-profile Member-vs.-Member race in a safe Democratic seat and two more Los Angeles-area districts affected by the state’s new “jungle primary.”
In the redrawn 30th district in the San Fernando Valley, Rep. Howard Berman is benefiting from a super PAC, the Committee to Elect an Effective Valley Congressman, that has already spent more than $400,000 in television advertising on his behalf.
Berman is facing fellow Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman in a race forced by an independent redistricting commission that drew the longtime colleagues into the same district. The outside spending piles on to what’s expected to be one of the most expensive House races ever. The Members have already spent about $1.5 million combined on TV ads ahead of the primary.
By running in the new 31st district, Rep. Gary Miller avoided an intra-delegation race of his own against fellow Republican Rep. Ed Royce. But thanks in part to the jungle primary, in which two candidates advance to the general regardless of party, Miller is still in danger of not being one of the top two vote-getters in a district wholly new to him.