The Return of the CA House Races Roundup - Feb. 2008
Welcome back to the long-awaited California House races roundup! These things take up an inordinate amount of time, but I've finally found some, and I'm ready to go with this roundup. There's a lot of additional information, including Q4 2007 fundraising numbers, the turnout in the February primary offering a decent snapshot of Democratic chances in a particular district, and quite a few new candidates to speak about. I'm going to rank the top ten challenges to Republican-held seats across the state, as well as take a look at the two intriguing races held by Democrats. But first, it should be mentioned that the deadline for applying to run for a Congressional seat is fast approaching (March 7, I believe), and 4 of the 19 Republican-held seats in the state still have no challenger: CA-02 (Herger), CA-19 (Radanovich), CA-22 (McCarthy), and CA-25 (McKeon). This is especially distressing in CA-19 and CA-25, where turnout in the Feb. 5 primary was either even or favored Democrats. So anyone in these 4 districts: run for Congress! It's a résumé builder!
(By the way, you can follow all of the candidates in all these races at the 2008 Race Tracker.
OK, let's get into it:
While most of the 34 Democratic-held seats are safe, two are worth noting (actually 3; Minuteman member Jim Gilchrist is going to run against Loretta Sanchez in CA-47, which is hilarious. Apparently he'll campaign in between legal proceedings with other Minuteman members). One race has an upcoming special election:
1. CA-12 (open seat). There will be a special election in this district to replace the late Rep. Tom Lantos. The primary will be held on April 8, with a general election on June 3, the same day as the statewide Congressional and legislative primary. Candidates must get into the race by next Monday, February 25, so we'll know by then if we'll have a contested primary on the Democratic side between former state Senator Jackie Speier and reform advocate Lawrence Lessig, who has set up an exploratory committee.
Lessig, whose name has been bandied about in a draft campaign, has a couple Power Point presentations up about his plan to change Congress and about whether or not to run for Congress. I must admit to some degree of ignorance about Lessig in general, but he has a definite following among Silicon Valley types and the techno-savvy. He would run a reform campaign against earmarks and lobbyist money, and for public financing. Jackie Speier has spent the last couple months consolidating support in the district, however, as she was going to mount a primary challenge to Lantos before his death. She's also reached out to a lot of local bloggers, so I don't think this is exactly establishment vs. anti-establishment. It should be VERY interesting if Lessig jumps in, and either way we'll end up with a great Congressman in CA-12.
2. CA-11. Incumbent: Jerry McNerney. Main challenger: Dean Andal. Cook number: R+3. % Dem turnout in the Presidential primary: 53.9%. Jerry McNerney has fund-raised impressively (over $1.065 million in 2007), and his strong advocacy of the RESTORE Act over the telecom amnesty bill that came out of the Senate, gives me some degree of confidence that 2008 will not feature some of the same missteps as in 2007. I don't think McNerney will be able to draw on exactly the same activism that he did in 2006; but incumbency has its advantages. His strong environmental record, and commitment to constituent services give him a leg up. His opponent, Dean Andal, has put up some nice fundraising numbers (about $535,000 in 2007), but calling him a rock star is a bit of a stretch. The high Democratic turnout in the primary shows that the demographics continue to change here, and I'm confident that McNerney will do well.
I'm going to do three tiers in setting apart the top 10 seats where we have challenges to Republican incumbents.
1. CA-04. Open seat. Dem. challenger: Charlie Brown. Repub. challengers: Rico Oller, Doug Ose, Tom McClintock. PVI #: R+11. % Dem turnout in primary: 45.4. A lot to report here. John Doolittle dropped out in January, and since then it's been a feeding frenzy on the Republican side. Former state senator Rico Oller jumped in right away, followed by former Rep. Doug Ose (who's already running ads touting his record on ethics, which is funny since he donated to John Doolittle's legal defense fund recently). And now there's the talk, which has gone beyond rumor, that Tom McClintock will jump into this race. McClintock, by the way, is from Thousand Oaks. So we have three carpetbaggers, coming from far and wide into the Sierras to try and take a Congressional seat, and here we have Charlie Brown, with a ton of money, respect inside the district, and fresh off a near-victory in 2006, who is trying to make positive change right now instead of waiting for November. He's giving more than $23,000 of his campaign money to assist organizations that serve veterans and their families. That's a stark contrast. So while a few people have written off this race, with the prospect of a bruising primary on the Republican side and our excellent candidate, I think Charlie Brown remains well-positioned to pull this off.
2. CA-26. Incumbent: David Dreier. Challenger: Russ Warner. PVI #: R+4. % Dem. turnout: 50.6. I get bullish on this race more and more. First of all, Hoyt Hilsman dropped out of the race, clearing the field for Russ Warner. Warner, who has raised over $400,000 in his campaign, can now commit that entirely to the general election. David Dreier has completely lost sight of this district and he's facing his first real challenger basically since he was elected in 1980. Now, it's not smooth sailing; Dreier has $2 million dollars in the bank. But look at that Democratic turnout on February 5. That excitement gap will continue at the top of the ticket, and Russ Warner needs to ride the wave.
3. CA-50. Incumbent: Brian Bilbray. Challenger: Nick Leibham. PVI #: R+5. % Dem. turnout: 51.2. Another piece of good news with that February 5 turnout. And there is almost fiscal parity in cash on hand. Brian Bilbray has raised $419,000, with $262,000 CoH, and Nick Leibham raised $211,000, with $188,000 CoH. This North County Times article lays out the stakes:
Doug Thornell, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which raises money for Democratic candidates and ranked the Republican-held 50th district as vulnerable, said party leaders were impressed by Nick Leibham, a Rancho Santa Fe lawyer challenging Bilbray.
In December, Democrats listed the race for the 50th Congressional District seat held by Bilbray as one of the top 40 to watch in the nation, in part due to Leibham's ability to raise campaign funds.
Leibham, an attorney and former criminal prosecutor for the city of San Diego, said his campaign platform includes addressing energy independence, global warming and a "timely and responsible" withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
For his part, Bilbray said that "When I'm in Encinitas getting my hair cut, the feedback I've been getting is great." Which is, you know, extremely sophisticated polling. But his votes against S-CHIP and on other issues could come back to haunt him. His fallback position is to blame undocumented immigrants, but we'll see if he can go to that well again.
4. CA-45. Incumbent: Mary Bono Mack. Challengers: Paul Clay, David Hunsicker, Julie Borenstein. PVI #: R+3. % Dem. turnout: 52.4. In this Palm Springs district, Mary Bono Mack, who likes to hang out with Judith Nathan, has only $219,000 cash on hand. That's more than any of the three candidates set to face her, to be sure, but that's dangerously low. Julie Borenstein is a former Assemblywoman who has a proven electoral record. I'm intrigued by the possibilities here, especially with that turnout number.
5. CA-03. Incumbent: Dan Lungren. Challenger: Bill Durston. PVI #: R+7. % Dem turnout: 53.1. That is the best percentage turnout in any of these Republican-held districts. Dan Lungren is a carpetbagger who found his way into a Sacramento-area district some years ago. Bill Durston has maintained a presence online, hitting Lungren for his environmental record and trying to get him listed as one of the League of Conservation Voters' "Dirty Dozen." Durston, a Vietnam vet, has an excellent public record on the issues. This is obviously a long shot, but 53% Democratic turnout? I don't know, running on getting out of Iraq and fighting global warming could be potent, especially with the top-of-the-ticket coattails. (I must confess that I do like Lungren's X Prize idea.)
6. CA-52. Open seat. Repub. challengers: several. Dem. challengers: several. PVI #: R+9. % Dem. turnout: 47.6. I still think it's going to be very difficult to challenge the likely Republican candidate, longtime Rep. and worst Presidential candidate ever Duncan Hunter's son, also named Duncan Hunter. However, Democrat Mike Lumpkin did raise $78,000 in 2007, which is not a bad number. Here's a story from DKos about the Democratic candidates in this district. Lumpkin is a former Navy SEAL who the diarist calls "the most conservative of the three" candidates (the others are Vickie Butcher and Jim Hester, himself ex-Special Forces). I'm pretty sanguine about our chances here, but I'd like to see what another Fighting Dem can do.
Third Tier (Orange County corruption sector)
7. CA-46. Incumbent: Dana Rohrabacher. Challenger: Debbie Cook. PVI #: R+6. % Dem. turnout: 47.6. This one actually has a chance to get interesting. Everyone knows that Dana Rohrabacher is out of his mind. His statements are routinely offensive and astonishing, and his ties with child molesters and even the Taliban are well-known. But he's never really had to run a tough race in his nine elections to Congress. Debbie Cook is the mayor of Huntington Beach, the biggest city in the district. She's running in this seat, she just announced at the Democratic Party of Orange County convention. If she can get the money, I think she has the potential to be a formidable opponent. Here's her statement of candidacy:
“Our nation faces big problems: a growing energy gap, a struggling economy, global warming, the escalating costs of health care, and the war in Iraq.” Mayor Cook said. “We need new people with new passion and new ideas who have experience working across party lines to get results.”
More here and here.
8. CA-41. Incumbent: Jerry Lewis. Challengers: Tim Prince, Dr. Rita Ramirez-Dean. PVI #: R+9. % Dem. turnout: 46.8. Tim Prince had a kickoff party recently and is organizing on the ground in the district. Dr. Dean is doing the same. Both face an uphill battle against Lewis, but it should be entirely focused on corruption. Lewis received more earmark money than anyone in Congress in 2007, despite being in the minority party, getting over $137 million for pet projects. He's still under an FBI investigation. There's still a lot of stuff you can pin on Lewis, it'll just take the right candidate and a lot of money.
9. CA-44. Incumbent: Ken Calvert. Challenger: Bill Hedrick. PVI #: R+6. % Dem. turnout: 50.1. That is an enticing number. Bill Hedrick needs the resources to compete. Ken Calvert is also under investigation by the FBI, and the Jurupa Parks district recently turned down a half-million dollar settlement in a case where Calvert profited from a shady land deal. Again, a lot of smoke. Hedrick needs to pick up on it.
10. CA-42: Incumbent: Gary Miller. Challengers: Ron Shepston, Ed Chau. PVI #: R+10. % Dem. turnout: 44.2. Ron Shepston is the sentimental favorite, someone who came out of the netroots to make this challenge against corrupt incumbent Gary Miller. He's built a campaign team (including some of those who helped Jerry McNerney defeat Richard Pombo) and is planning a lot of house parties. However, there's a primary challenger (Ed Chau) which will eat up some money, and the turnout number in the February 5 primary is worrying. Like these other races, there are corruption allegations that you can sink your teeth into.