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For Democrats, It's Déjà Vu in California's 31st District

Democrats may have reason for concern about a replay from 2012, when the party fumbled a sure pickup opportunity in Southern California thanks to the state's new top-two primary. According to a poll conducted for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and obtained by CQ Roll Call, former Democratic Rep. Joe Baca, who has raised little money and is not backed by the national party, is gaining on the two Democratic front-runners in the 31st District open-seat race. With a 5-point rise since last month, Baca is now tied for third with attorney Eloise Gomez Reyes, behind Republican businessman Paul Chabot and Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, who is backed by the DCCC. Chabot led the primary field among likely voters with 23 percent, followed by Aguilar with 15 percent, and Reyes and Baca with 13 percent apiece. Should the three top Democrats splinter the vote nearly evenly in the primary, there is a possibility one of the other Republicans finishes second — again. "This dynamic leaves the door open for a scenario in which two Republicans clear the primary and Democrats are shut out of the general election, as they were in 2012," pollsters for California-based Tulchin Research wrote in a memo. The pollsters found Baca was unlikely to finish in the top two, but "this development has further diluted the Democratic vote..." Last cycle, the party lost the seat after a similarly crowded Democratic field splintered the vote and paved the way for two Republicans to advance to the general. GOP Rep. Gary G. Miller, who moved to the 31st after redistricting, won as President Barack Obama carried the district with 57 percent. Now that Miller is retiring, Democrats are backing Aguilar with the hopes they can win back this seat in the most Democratic district currently represented by a Republican. A GOP contender to eclipse the three Democrats is former Miller aide Lesli Gooch, who took 6 percent in the poll. Eighteen percent of voters remained undecided three weeks out from the primary. The poll surveyed 400 likely primary voters via live land line and cellphone calls in both English and Spanish  May 7-8. The poll had a 4.9-point margin of error. California's 31st District is rated Lean Democratic by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.