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California Primaries Spell Political Upheaval

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Gary Miller could be the first California Congressman of 2012 to be ousted.

At least 10 California House Members elected or re-elected in 2010 won’t return to Capitol Hill in 2013, with today’s primary results offering fresh clues about others who might not make it back in a year of upheaval in the Golden State.

A nonpartisan redistricting commission’s remap of district lines mixed with an aging delegation and a rush of ambition is resulting in an unusually competitive election cycle in a state largely uncontested at the presidential or Senate levels.

The state is holding its first-ever “jungle” primaries in a federal election cycle, and there is no shortage of races to watch tonight — especially the 31st district, where Rep. Gary Miller (R) could be the first incumbent to lose. Under a new primary format approved by voters in 2010, all candidates will appear on a single primary ballot, and the top two vote-getters will advance to the general election, regardless of party preference.

The unconventional process adds another layer of intrigue to California, where the Congressional delegation, once a model of stasis, will see more turnover than any other state this cycle. Just one seat changed party hands in the past decade. At the start of the 112th Congress, the average tenure for a delegation Member was eight terms.

California is vital to Democrats’ efforts to win back the House, and the party hopes to net as many as a half-dozen pickups. Although the Democrats controlled redistricting 10 years ago, the lines drawn by the nonpartisan commission following the latest census are set to put more seats in play than did the 2002 remap.

However, Republicans have pickup opportunities of their own. The GOP is targeting several Democratic incumbents and could potentially keep Democratic gains to a single seat.

Among the highlights of primary day are a pair of Member-vs.-Member races; a Democrat-targeted district where the party could have no candidate on the general election ballot; and an incumbent, Miller, who could be the first California Congressman of 2012 to be ousted.

After being drawn into the 39th district with Rep. Ed Royce (R), Miller decided to run in the new 31st district — Democratic-leaning territory and none of which he currently represents. With Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar (D) expected to advance, it will come down to Miller and state Sen. Bob Dutton (R), whose state legislative district overlaps considerably with the 31st.

In Ventura County, the Democrats’ preferred candidate, state Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, might not make it out of the primary thanks to Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks’ independent bid and the potential for a splintered Democratic vote. State Sen. Tony Strickland is the only Republican running and will face either Parks or Brownley in the general.

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