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California's new Congressional map, set to be released Friday, will dismantle 10 years of bipartisan incumbent safety, thanks to a newly installed independent redistricting process and a wave of political ambition.
Just one seat has changed party hands since the 2001 redistricting, and at the start of the 112th Congress, the average tenure of California's 53 Members was eight terms. That's about to change, with the potential for a handful of Member-vs.-Member races and perhaps a few retirements.
The highest-profile battle is the likely face-off between San Fernando Valley Reps. Brad Sherman and Howard Berman, two well-financed Democrats who refuse to back down. But another possible Democratic scuffle is brewing in South Los Angeles between newly elected Rep. Janice Hahn, Rep. Laura Richardson and Assemblyman Isadore Hall in a Compton-based district designed to help African-Americans keep a third LA seat. Hahn won a special election just this month.
"There's no question that incumbents from both parties could have an interesting go of things," Republican consultant Rob Stutzman said. "The gerrymander of the last decade hasn't required really any incumbent to be in a tough race."
Political insiders in the state expect incumbents, challengers and potential candidates to immediately begin polling the new landscape once the lines are released Friday. At least 10 sitting state legislators have already announced their candidacies for Congress, with about as many city council members, mayors and county supervisors also running — before even knowing with certainty in which district they reside.
The up-and-coming candidates are not just running for open seats or against incumbents from the other party. As partisan-controlled redistricting went out the window this year, so did the taboo of intraparty challenges.
"In California, it has been sacrilege to even suggest that you would run against an incumbent," Democratic redistricting expert Paul Mitchell said. "Contrast that with now, state legislators are announcing all over the place."
As examples, Mitchell pointed to Hall running against Richardson and Hahn in Compton, and Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson (R) challenging Rep. Ed Royce, who is involved in a GOP incumbent logjam in Orange County.
"At one point, state Sen. Alan Lowenthal announced when he had two sitting Congress Members in the district," Mitchell said of the Long Beach Democrat. "It is gloves-off, no-holds-barred time."
The process of remaking the state's representation in Congress and the state Legislature won't end Friday, with forthcoming legal challenges expected from all sides of the argument. The potential loss of minority-influenced seats could bring challenges from outside groups, while Republicans have floated the possibility of a public referendum on the maps.