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Redistricting Floods Calif. With Competition

Both Parties Looking to Capture Seats After Independent Panel Shakes Up Districts

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Democratic Rep. Dennis Cardoza remains atop the retirement-watch list, leaving the fate of his district up in the air.

California has begun a new era of political theater that has caught the eye of both national parties as the decadelong drought of competitive Congressional elections comes to a close.

Republicans could face a loss of as many as six seats because of the state's new independent redistricting process, according to some educated estimates. Democrats currently hold a 34-19 majority in the delegation.

But despite unfavorable lines, the National Republican Congressional Committee sees six legitimate opportunities to win a Democratic-held or open seat, which would keep its losses in the Golden State to a minimum.

The fact that California House races are even being discussed more than a year before the elections is a drastic change from the past 10 years, when district lines were drawn by partisans with the goal of incumbent retention. Because the state's independent commission could not take incumbent safety into account, combined with the increase in Latino population and onslaught of state legislators running for higher office, the state's Congressional delegation could see dramatic turnover.

For Democrats, the map moved in their favor and could provide one-fifth of the 25 seats the party needs to flip to take back the majority. For the NRCC, which is looking to stem the redistricting-caused losses in California, the change means finally paying closer attention to a state that could feature more competitive races than any other.

"There's some real opportunities for us to win some seats that have been ignored politically for so long at the Congressional level," NRCC Political Director Mike Shields told Roll Call.

The NRCC's target list starts with Rep. Lois Capps (D), whose infamous "Ribbon of Shame" gerrymandered district that traverses 200 miles along the Pacific is now far less Democratic and considered swing territory. The leading Republican to take her on in the newly drawn 24th district is former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, who raised almost $300,000 in the second quarter and loaned himself $250,000.

Two other high-priority districts are the Central Valley 16th and 21st, where it's still unclear which incumbents will be running. Democratic Reps. Dennis Cardoza and Jim Costa live in the 16th, but Costa lives near the 21st and could run there. However, Cardoza remains atop the retirement-watch list, and under that scenario, Costa would undoubtedly run in the 16th, which is safer.

Either way, the NRCC believes both seats are vulnerable to takeover.

"The Costa and Cardoza seats are seats that we feel like we missed last time," Shields said. "I think they got a little lucky with so many targets across the country — they flew under the radar. That's not going to happen this cycle."

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