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Parties Draw Lines in California Sand

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Dan Lungren is one what Republicans say are their three vulnerable incumbents in California. His Sacramento-area district was redrawn unfavorably for him.

California was once a muddled mess of candidates running in a year of redistricting, retirements and a new “jungle” primary process, but since that June 5 vote the electoral landscape has crystallized into 53 two-candidate races — with some featuring two from the same party.

Now, election experts at the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee largely agree on where the hottest competition will be for seats that could switch parties, though of course they have starkly different views of which party will come out victorious in November.

When the new district lines were completed last year, Democrats hoped to expand upon their 34-19 advantage in the delegation by as many as six seats. But the NRCC is bullish on its ability to keep that number to a minimum.

Nancy Pelosi has made clear that any path to the majority for the Democrats starts in California, and we would contend that it certainly ends in California,” NRCC Deputy Political Director Brock McCleary said during a 35-minute conference call last week with California and Washington, D.C., reporters.

The NRCC sees 10 highly competitive districts and a playing field that is “perfectly aligned,” with both parties defending five seats. Republicans say they have three vulnerable incumbents — Reps. Dan Lungren, Jeff Denham and Brian Bilbray — and two competitive open seats to defend, the Ventura County-based 26th district and the Riverside-based 41st district.

The DCCC agrees with that list and includes Rep. Mary Bono Mack’s (R) 36th district on its list of competitive GOP districts.

“Even Speaker Boehner admits Republicans are in jeopardy in California after redistricting,” DCCC spokeswoman Amber Moon said, “facing a weak top of the ticket in California and forced to defend slashing Medicare to protect tax breaks for millionaires and Big Oil companies.”

The committees share a common view of the most competitive districts where Democrats are playing defense: The districts of Reps. John Garamendi, Jerry McNerney and Lois Capps, and open seats in the Long Beach-based 47th district and Central Valley-based 21st district.

Among the top races to watch, Lungren is again facing physician Ami Bera in a Sacramento-area district that was redrawn unfavorably for Lungren. But Lungren is a survivor and knows what he’s up against in the well-funded Bera.

Democrats were glad San Diego Port Commission Chairman Scott Peters emerged from the primary in the 52nd district and think he’ll be a solid challenge for Bilbray.

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