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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.

There are two pairs of Democratic incumbents facing each other in the Los Angeles area on Tuesday: Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, and Reps. Janice Hahn and Laura Richardson. All four are likely to advance to the general election, where two are sure to lose.

The Members elected in 2010 who have already resigned or are retiring are: former Rep. Jane Harman (D) and Reps. Dennis Cardoza (D), David Dreier (R), Elton Gallegly (R), Wally Herger (R), Jerry Lewis (R) and Lynn Woolsey (D). Rep. Bob Filner (D) is running for San Diego mayor.

California Primary Races

1st district

Retiring Rep. Wally Herger’s (R) successor in this rural, Republican-leaning Northern California district will likely be decided today. The heavy favorite is state Sen. Doug LaMalfa (R), whom Herger endorsed on the day of his retirement announcement in early January. LaMalfa’s biggest challenge is to make sure he finishes ahead of former state Sen. Sam Aanestad (R). There are enough Democrats here that Herger’s 2010 opponent, Jim Reed (D), will likely advance and possibly even finish with the most votes, but a Republican will win in November.

2nd district    

It’s a race for second place in this coastal, heavily Democratic district. Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D), a leader in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, is retiring, opening perhaps the most liberal district in the country. State Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D) will likely finish first and is favored to win in November, followed by one of a handful of other Democrats: activist Norman Solomon, former tech executive Stacey Lawson and Marin County Supervisor Susan Adams. However, it’s possible investment firm adviser Dan Roberts (R) will take enough Republican votes to advance.

8th district    

A Republican will represent this open High Desert district, which stretches from inland Southern California near Los Angeles all the way to the Nevada border. But with so many candidates, it’s impossible to call which two will emerge from the primary and from which party. Ten of the 13 candidates vying for this safe Republican seat are Republican. The top GOP contenders are state Assemblyman Paul Cook, San Bernardino County Commissioner Brad Mitzelfelt, Victorville Mayor Ryan McEachron, anti-immigration activist Gregg Imus and accountant Phil Liberatore, who loaned his campaign $250,000.

10th district    

It’s unlikely there will be any general election scenario here other than freshman Rep. Jeff Denham (R), an Air Force veteran, versus former NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez (D). The intrigue comes from the independent bid of Chad Condit, the son of former Rep. Gary Condit (D). Condit would have to overcome any remaining scars from the scandal that led to his father’s primary defeat in 2002. This Modesto-area district, among the most competitive in the state, includes much of Gary Condit’s former territory.

15th district    

Rep. Pete Stark (D) is not in danger of losing in the primary in this Northern California seat southeast of San Francisco. But a poor showing against Dublin City Councilman Eric Swalwell (D) on Tuesday could portend trouble in November. The 80-year-old recently announced the endorsement of President Barack Obama, which he hopes will overshadow a string of embarrassing gaffes that breathed life into Swalwell’s challenge, once seen as a long shot.

21st district    

It’s unclear how competitive Democrats will be here in November even if the national party’s preferred candidate, Fresno City Councilman Blong Xiong, is able to advance in the three-
candidate primary field. State Assemblyman David Valadao (R) will be the favorite to win this open seat against Xiong or John Hernandez (D), the CEO of the Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. But a Xiong primary loss could take this district off the map completely for Democrats. If Xiong pulled off an upset, he would be the first Hmong-American elected to Congress.

24th district

Rep. Lois Capps (D) is waiting to see which of two Republicans makes it out of the primary in this competitive Santa Barbara-area district. Former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado and actor Chris Mitchum, the son of actor Robert Mitchum, are both in the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Young Guns candidate program. But Maldonado, who is not a favorite of conservatives, has had to weather some recent bad press, including a Los Angeles Times report that he and his family business owe the IRS more than $4 million.

26th district    

A splintered Democratic vote could result in no Democrat advancing to the general in a top pickup opportunity for the party. Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks, most recently a Republican, opted to run as an Independent, potentially helping her win votes from across the spectrum. National Democratic groups have spent heavily to boost the profile of state Assemblywoman Julia Brownley. State Sen. Tony Strickland is the lone Republican and is assured of advancing.

30th district    

Known simply as Berman-Sherman — or Sherman-Berman — this is the race to which all other Member-vs.-Member contests are compared. But unlike most others, this one is highly likely to continue until November. Longtime Democratic Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman are facing off in the San Fernando Valley and have spent heavily ahead of the primary. Both campaigns want the momentum a first-place finish would offer. Sherman currently represents about 60 percent of the district.

31th district  

This primary offers the best chance for a California incumbent to lose before November. That possibility led the National Association of Realtors to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of Rep. Gary Miller (R), who opted to run here after being drawn into the 39th district with Rep. Ed Royce (R). Miller doesn’t currently represent any of the district. State Sen. Bob Dutton (R) does, and he could prevent Miller from returning to Congress. Highly touted Democratic recruit and Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar will advance.

41st district    

Both parties expect a general election matchup between Riverside Community College Board Trustee Mark Takano (D) and Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione (R). Both men heavily outraised their three opponents for this seat, situated in Southern California’s Inland Empire. This will likely be one of the most competitive races in the state, and it’s one that Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), are focused on picking up.

44th district    

There are only two candidates here, so the primary will act as a dry run for November. But there is still plenty of interest in the primary results of Democratic Reps. Janice Hahn and Laura Richardson, one of two Member-vs.-Member races in the state. Hahn, whose family name is synonymous with Southern California politics, was endorsed by the state party and is heavily favored over Richardson, who is under investigation by the Ethics Committee.

47th district    

This is one of the odder primaries, in that it includes a husband and wife, Jay and Usha Shah, both running as Democrats. Seven candidates are running in this Democratic-leaning district in Long Beach. State Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D) is likely to advance. Long Beach City Councilman Gary DeLong, who is in the NRCC’s Young Guns candidate program, and former Rep. Steve Kuykendall (R) are vying for the second spot. Both boast big-name endorsements, but DeLong has spent more than twice as much.

51st district    

Rep. Bob Filner’s (D) decision to run for San Diego mayor opened a safe Democratic seat. There is no love lost between the two leading Democratic contenders, state Sen. Juan Vargas and former state Sen. Denise Moreno Ducheny, whom Vargas succeeded when he was elected in 2010. They’ll likely advance and keep the slugfest going for another five months.

52nd district    

Redistricting forced Rep. Brian Bilbray (R) into a Democratic-leaning district. The two leading Democrats vying to take him on are San Diego Port Commission Chairman Scott Peters and former state Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña. Peters loaned his campaign $1.25 million in May and spent about half that on mail and TV. Saldaña spent a total of $163,000 in the preprimary fundraising period, but Progressive Kick, a liberal super PAC, ran a late TV ad opposing Peters.

California Races To Watch in November

There are four competitive districts to watch in the general election that aren’t among the top primaries today. All four involve incumbents who are near the top of national party target lists.

3rd district

John Garamendi (D) vs. Kim Vann (R)

7th district

Ami Bera (D) vs. Dan Lungren (R)

9th district

Jerry McNerney (D) vs. Ricky Gill (R)

36th district

Raul Ruiz (D) vs. Mary Bono Mack (R)

Other Primaries to Watch

Montana At-Large

Businessman Steve Daines (R) is the frontrunner in the race to succeed Rep. Denny Rehberg, who is running for Senate. Daines has nominal competition in today’s primary and has far outraised anyone in the highly competitive Democratic race. The top Democratic contenders include state Senate Minority Whip Kim Gillan, state Rep. Franke Wilmer, tech executive Diane Smith and Missoula City Councilman Dave Strohmaier.

New Mexico's 1st

The winner of the heated, three-way Democratic primary will emerge as the heavy favorite in November. It’s been a true horse race over the past year, as the long-perceived frontrunner, centrist former Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chávez, could end up running third against two more liberal opponents. State Sen. Eric Griego and Bernalillo County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham ran neck and neck in recent private and independent polls, and both ran attack ads against each other in the past week. The primary victor will take on former state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones (R) in the general election.

New Jersey's 9th

Thanks to redistricting, Democratic Reps. Bill Pascrell and Steven Rothman are locked in a dead-heat primary. The entire delegation and many Garden State operatives have remained unaligned in this contest. But President Bill Clinton endorsed Pascrell, and President Barack Obama is supporting Rothman. Rothman has numbers on his side, but Pascrell has fire in his belly. This could go either way.

New Jersey's 10th

All eyes are on Newark City Council President Donald Payne Jr. today in the Democratic primary to succeed his late father, Rep. Donald Payne (D). The younger Payne is seen as having the edge over state Sen. Nia Gill and Newark Councilman Ron Rice Jr. because of his name identification and establishment support. But with such low turnout and complicated circumstances, anything can happen. Names will appear on the ballot twice today, once for the full two-year term beginning in 2013 and once for the special election to serve out the remainder of the late Congressman’s term after the November election.

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