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A confluence of events made 2012 the time to strike for ambitious California Democrats considering a bid for Congress, but a new wave of party talent should find open avenues to Capitol Hill in the next few years.
A survey of Democratic strategists in the state unearthed a long list of politicians who would likely jump at the chance to run for Congress.
“As California’s demographics continue to trend in a direction that is supportive of the Democratic Party, you should look to see Democrats begin to size up seats that they can take these next couple of elections,” said Eric Bauman, chairman of the Los Angeles Democratic Party.
For instance, unprompted, every operative who spoke with CQ Roll Call named Assemblyman Henry Perea as someone expected to run for Congress in the Central Valley one day, presumably when Democratic Rep. Jim Costa retires. And in San Diego, City Council President Todd Gloria, a protégé of Democratic Rep. Susan A. Davis, is widely seen as a top contender to seek her seat when his mentor retires — whenever that day comes.
In 2012, an aging delegation mixed with a fresh round of redistricting and a reformed primary process resulted in an extensive new crop of California members of Congress. In all, the largest state in the country elected 14 new House members last cycle, a 26 percent turnover rate in a state known over the past decade for its dearth of competition.
Despite losing one of their own seats last year, Democrats netted four new seats, expanding their delegation majority to 38 of the 53 seats. And with two-thirds of the state legislative seats, there are plenty more Democrats in the pipeline ready to move up at the next opportunity.
Even though a few longtime Democratic members lost last cycle, including Pete Stark and Joe Baca, a line of veteran Democratic House members remain. They include Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Reps. Lois Capps, Michael M. Honda, George Miller and Anna G. Eshoo, to name a few. None have publicly professed intentions to leave Congress soon, but they can be sure plenty of Democrats will be ready when they do.
Capps, 75, survived last year in a Santa Barbara district redrawn as more competitive. Democrats in the state pointed to Assemblyman Das Williams, a former two-term Santa Barbara city councilman, as someone who could run for her seat when she retires. Another potential candidate is state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson. Both she and Williams represent districts that overlap with Capps’.
Pelosi, who turns 73 this month, has represented her San Francisco district since 1987. When she retires, state Sen. Mark Leno, a gay rights advocate, is viewed as a natural successor. But he may have to compete with Assemblyman Phil Ting for one of the safest Democratic seats in the country.