It's great that the netroots candidacy of Ron Shepston for Congress
is getting so much attention. His race against the unfathomably corrupt Gary Miller
represents a progressive hope and a decided alternative, and people are so excited that, at press time, he's raised over $5,300 dollars
through ActBlue in just a couple days.
Superlative. Outstanding. Fantastic.
Now let's really look at what he's getting into. The campaign has asked me to contribute a guest column to the rollout providing the lay of the land. We'll start with the bad news and move slowly into the good.
Previous diaries in the CA-42 campaign rollout series:
7/15: thereisnospoon's CA-42: A Kossack is running for Congress
7/16: atdnext's CA-42: The Case Against Dirty Gary Miller
7/17: Major Danby's CA-42: I'm managing a netroots U.S. House campaign
7/18: CanYouBeAngryAndStillDream's CA-42: Hi, I'm Ron Shepston and I'm running for Congress
7/19: hekebolos's CA-42: A Netroots campaign-- politics the way it should be.
Here is a map of the 42nd District of California:
As you can see, it covers three counties, starting in San Bernardino County at Chino, moving into LA County with Whittier and Diamond Bar, and then Orange County with Brea and La Habra, snaking all the way down to grab Mission Viejo in the southern portion of the county. Seems like a strange shape, doesn't it? It should. California's districts were gerrymandered to the extreme for incumbent protection after the 2000 Census. Democrats and Republicans made the deal to lock in a set number of seats. Between the 2000 Election and the 2002 Election, Miller gained 8 points from his challenger because the district was made more Republican.
Now, it doesn't always work: Richard Pombo was forced out of office by Jerry McNerney last year. But he is literally the ONLY incumbent to be deposed since this Congressional map was put into place. More on McNerney later.
So this is a very Republican seat
. George W. Bush beat Kerry 62%-38% in 2004, and Gore by 58%-38% in 2000 (when it was more Democratic). The district has a Cook Partisan Voting Index score of R +10 (meaning the district votes 10 points more Republican that the nation at large). Only a few California districts are higher. It'd be great to have a metric of Gary Miller's most recent election, but in 2006 he was one of only 10 Republicans to run unopposed. So we have to go back to 2004 and 2002 to look at results in this newly configured district. They ain't pretty.
United States House election, 2004: California District 42
Republican Gary Miller 167,632 68.2
Democratic Lewis Myers 78,393 31.8
United States House election, 2002: California District 42
Republican Gary Miller 95,737 67.6 +8.6
Democratic Richard Waldron 41,306 29.2 -8.2
So since this district has had its current configuration, Gary Miller's opponent has never received more than 31.8% of the vote. We'll call that Ron's baseline of support, since I'm not sure Lewis Myers or Richard Waldron offered up anything but token opposition. The question is where to get the other 19%.
Let's look at the demographics
of the district (linked from Gary Miller's House website! Thanks Gary! You can return to your regularly scheduled ripping off of America now!).
About 57.5% of the district is in Orange County, including the largest population center, Mission Viejo (no wonder they snuck it into the district). The registration edge here is 55-27 Republican, and no area has a Democratic advantage (La Habra is the closest, at 45-37, which stands to reason because it's close to the LA County part of the district). The area of the OC in the district is 20% Latino and about 11% Asian.
LA County needs to be Shepston Country. The registration edge here is lower (43R, 36D), and Rowland Heights is actually plurality-Democratic. Of course, it's only 21% of the district. It's heavily Asian (40%) and Latino (23%). I don't know if sprawl goes out this far and if these are Los Angeles bedroom communities for those priced out of the more expensive areas, but it's certainly possible.
Finally, San Bernardino County is the final 21.5% of the district, and it's also closer (45R, 38D). In Chino there's a 42%-41% advantage for Democratic registration. The Latino population is strong out here; 37%.
The final numbers for the district are about 50% registration total, with a 21-point registration advantage for Republicans (51R, 30D). The district is very diverse, 44% nonwhite (23.8% Latino, 17.5% Asian, 3.4% African-American).
So the key would appear to be to raise registration rates in Democratic areas, bring in big numbers in LA and San Bernardino County, and make sure the Latino vote turns out. A tall order. And did I mention that Gary Miller has $800,000 Cash on Hand
after raising $137,000 in the most recent quarter?
But there's more of the story to be told, points that argue in Shepston's favor, and in favor of a strong challenge in a district some would call unwinnable.
: This was considered the number one issue according to exit polls in 2006. Miller hasn't been tested on this, since the revelations about his dirty dealings didn't come out until the 2006 election, when he was unopposed. And if anything, they've grown worse since then. So there is a case to be made that voters will reject someone who appears to be doing the business of profit-taking instead of legislating.
: Gary Miller has voted in lockstep with the President on an issue that has scant support in the country, even in a district as red as this. I assume that the netroots team running this race will not run away from the issue of Iraq as many consultants have the knee-jerk reaction to do.
• THE ALBATROSS
: Ron Brownstein makes the case
Unpopular departing presidents, though, have consistently undercut their party in the next election. Democrats lost the White House in 1952 and 1968 after Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson saw their approval ratings plummet below 50%. Likewise, in the era before polling, the opposition party won the White House when deeply embattled presidents left office after the elections of 1920 (Woodrow Wilson), 1896 (Grover Cleveland), 1860 (James Buchanan) and 1852 (Millard Fillmore). The White House also changed partisan control when weakened presidents stepped down in 1844 and 1884. Only in 1856 and 1876 did this pattern bend, when the parties of troubled presidents Franklin Pierce and Ulysses S. Grant held the White House upon their departure [...]
It's true that Republicans in 2008 should perform slightly better among voters who disapprove of the president than George H.W. Bush and Gore did, because their nominee, unlike those men, won't be the retiring president's vice president. But another pattern underscores how hard the challenge will remain: On average, 80% of voters who disapproved of a president's performance have voted against his party's candidates even in House races since 1986, according to the respected University of Michigan post-election polls. When a president takes on water, in other words, everyone in his party flounders.
This tracks with the idea that "there is no safe district"
in the post-Bush era, and that any partisan numbers over the past several years are somewhat irrelevant to the landscape today.
• DEMOGRAPHIC SHIFTS
: Getting the Latino vote out in a year where the Republicans have done absolutely everything to present themselves as the biggest brown-haters on the block is crucial. You don't have to have that long a memory to remember the anti-immigrant Prop. 187 fights out here in California, which set back Republicans to this day. So making sure there's a high turnout among the substantial Latino base would seem to me to be a key. And I would gather than even more are in the district now, being priced out of LA County.
• STOPPING THE GRAVY TRAIN
: Gary Miller has been using his money gained in fundraising from his rich buddies to reward Republicans in close races
Miller's expenditures are listed at OpenSecrets, and you can see that he spent his money (in 2006) enriching the coffers of Republican candidates in close races all over the country. He didn't need the ill-begotten money for himself, so he gave it to his most endangered colleagues. A list:
Anne Northrup $1,000
Barbara Cubin $1,000
Deborah Pryce $1,000
Dave Reichert $1,000
Geoff Davis $1,000
JD Hayworth $1,000
Jim Gerlach $1,000
Keith Butler (MI Senate challenger) $1,000
Joe Knollenberg $2,000
Mary Bono $1,000
Mike Fitzpatrick $1,000
Mike Sodrel $1,000
Rob Simmons $1,000
Thelma Drake $1,000
That's 14 candidates to the tune of $15,000. A lot of those Republicans lost, but the recipient of the biggest expenditure from Miller's campaign was the NRCC, the committee dedicated to re-electing Congressional Republicans, which sent mailers and put up attack ads and made robocalls all over the country. They benefited from $112,000 from one Gary Miller. All of the sleazy developer money he's received over the years helped re-elect some of the worst Congressmen in the country by the skin of their teeth. That's $112,000 we wouldn't be likely to see in the NRCC's coffers if Miller were actually challenged and forced to run a campaign.
It's not like Miller is going to run out of money any time soon; he's rich beyond reason and can self-fund. But he wouldn't be as likely to fund others if challenged.
In conclusion, there are many signs out there that Ron Shepston does have the opportunity to be competitive and offer the voters in the 42nd a real alternative. The best comparisons we can use for California are the aforementioned Jerry McNerney in CA-11, and Charlie Brown in CA-04. Both went up against corrupt politicians in red areas. Both excited grassroots and netroots activists to donate to and work on the campaigns. Both engaged in bottom-up campaigning, with the big dollar money not coming in until later. And despite the warped political landscape and the partisan gerrymander, McNerney is a Congressman and Charlie Brown is about to join him. If he's diligent and bold and unyielding, Ron Shepston can do the same thing.
Labels: CA-42, California, Gary Miller, Ron Brownstein, Ron Shepston