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2010 CA House Races Roundup - April 2009

by: David Dayen

Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 17:52:05 PM PDT

In 2007-08, I wrote a monthly series of House race roundups here in California, taking a look at the races with the highest potential to change members of Congress.  This cycle, there are promises from the national Democrats that they will pay attention to a number of seats in California held by Republicans, and with the statewide races at the top of the ticket looking favorable for Democrats, and Republican registration collapsing throughout the state, in theory we should see some more movement.  But many of these elements were true the past two cycles, amounting to little.  Because it's a statewide officer election year, I will also do a statewide races roundup at a later time.  But for now, let's take a look at the seats most likely to flip in 2010, starting with seats currently held by Democrats, few of which are in play.  In addition to those "threatened" by Republicans, I'm including two seats where I've heard rumblings about primary challenges to incumbents.

A word on the notations.  PVI refers to the Cook Political Report's Partisan Voting Index.  I've also included the Presidential performance from last year and the particular Congressional performance, where applicable.  That information is available for the whole nation at this link.

flip it...

David Dayen :: 2010 CA House Races Roundup - April 2009

1. CA-11. Incumbent: Jerry McNerney. PVI: R+1. 2008 General: Obama 54-44. 2008 Congress: McNerney 55-45.  I keep seeing this seat on Republican target lists, and the NRCC has dropped robocalls in this district, but I really think the Republicans would be wasting their money.  Jerry McNerney actually slightly outperformed Barack Obama in the district in beating the hapless Dean Andal.  Andal won't bother with a challenge this time around, and while former Assemblyman Guy Houston has been mentioned as a candidate, I think McNerney has solidified his position and raised enough money to scare off any challengers.  SAFE DEM.

2. CA-36. Incumbent: Jane Harman. PVI: D+12. 2008 General: Obama 64-34. 2008 Congress: Harman 69-31.  The recent Jane Harman scandals, documented here at Calitics, are really not the only reason she is seen as ripe for a primary challenge: there is an impression in the district that she may retire, with local electeds licking their chops.  But if she does run, she will have challengers.  Marcy Winograd, who got 38% of the vote in a 2006 primary with Harman, has announced an exploratory committee.  And Crooks and Liars blogger John Amato, advancing a story in The Hill, has emerged to say he's considering a run.  I talked to John last night and he appears to be serious.  Harman has more money than God, and if she truly wants to stay in Congress she won't mind spending it, so this is a long shot.  But national progressive groups think that CA-36 can do better than "the best Republican in the Democratic Party."  The question is whether local activists will agree; I'm not sure they're quite there yet.  SAFE DEM; LIKELY SAFE HARMAN.

3. CA-37. Incumbent: Laura Richardson. PVI: D+26. 2008 General: Obama 80-19. 2008 Congress: Richardson 75-25.  If progressives really want to find a bad, vulnerable incumbent, they could look directly to the east of Jane Harman's district.  Laura Richardson is a bad lawmaker, who voted for the FISA Amendments Act and other conservative pieces of legislation.  What's more, she's an embarrassment to the district, having defaulted on eight houses since 2004 and, reportedly, having used her position in Congress to rescind the sale of her foreclosed home and return it to her.  Her monetary acumen extends to her campaign finances.  Unlike most incumbents, Richardson is currently $300,000 in debt in her campaign account.  This seat is ripe for a young, fresh progressive who has a cleaner record and a better commitment to the district's needs.  Nobody has yet emerged, but they should.  SAFE DEM; LIKELY SAFE RICHARDSON.


1. CA-44. Incumbent: Ken Calvert. PVI: R+6. 2008 General: Obama 49.5-48.6. 2008 Congress: Calvert 51-49.  Bill Hedrick shocked the political world by almost beating corrupt Rep. Ken Calvert in a race that fell off of everyone's radar screen.  Hedrick just announced that he's running again to finish the job, and I had a chance to chat with him at the CDP Convention in Sacramento.  He said that "something is occurring in the Inland Empire" - a combination of the bad economy, demographic shifts and a general distaste for Republicans - that bodes well for his campaign.  Hedrick actually won by 5% in the Riverside County portion of the district, which is where more voters reside; but he lost the southern Orange County portion by a healthy margin.  The registration figures in the OC part of the district is 90%; in Riverside, it's 50%.  Clearly there is potential to increase registration in Riverside and overwhelm Calvert with numbers.  Hedrick is a solid antiwar progressive, who supports a modern Pecora Commission to investigate the financial crisis, real refinancing options for people facing foreclosure, robust stimulus to get the economy moving again, and an end to American occupations abroad (he has two sons and two daughters-in-law who, between them, have 10 tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan).  Clearly he's going to run on Calvert's support of TARP, which should be interesting.  The fear is that Hedrick won't have the funds to compete.  He raised only $150,000 total last cycle, and with this race now on the radar screen, he'll need to do better.  But Hedrick appears to have a plan for expanding the donor base and using his army of volunteers to make up the gap and beat Ken Calvert in 2010.  LEAN REP.

2. CA-03. Incumbent: Dan Lungren. PVI: R+6. 2008 General: Obama 49.3-48.8. 2008 Congress: Lungren 49-44.  This is a ripe opportunity in search of a Democratic candidate.  In 2008 Bill Durston held Dan Lungren under 50% in a campaign that only got the attention it deserved at the last minute.  Demographically speaking, more and more people in the district have registered Democratic in recent years, and if Durston was running again, he would be a top challenger.  Unfortunately, Durston is unlikely to run owing to medical issues.  Actvisits have tried to entice John Garamendi into abandoning his CA-10 bid and run in this district, where he's actually one of the largest landowners.  But that also appears unlikely.  It should be noted that there is an announced candidate here, Dr. Amerish Bera.  But the hot rumor at the Convention was that Phil Angelides would enter the race, making it a matchup of former statewide gubernatorial candidates.  I later heard that rumor was probably bunk.  But this should happen!  Angelides, who has become an evangelist on energy and climate issues, has a huge donor list he could activate, a progressive policy profile, and actually matured as a candidate (not that you would know it from the media) in 2006.  He would bring name ID to this race like nobody else.  It's time to draft Phil.  LEAN REP.

3. CA-50. Incumbent: Brian Bilbray. PVI: R+3. 2008 General: Obama 51-47. 2008 Congress: Bilbray 50-45.  As you can see, Obama took this district by a decent margin, and Bilbray barely hit 50%.  Francine Busby, who ran in 2004 and 2006 and then took a cycle off, has returned to run for Congress, and she had a bit of visibility at the Convention.  Busby has OK name ID, but this district has always seemed to me to have a ceiling for the Democratic candidate around 45%.  I'm happy to be wrong, of course, and hopefully Busby has learned from her past races and is able to break through.  Of course, Bilbray is sure to resurrect the "You don't need papers for voting" comment that hurt her in a special election in 2006 (which was twisted by the right, incidentally).  LIKELY REP.

4. CA-26. Incumbent: David Dreier. PVI: R+3.  2008 General: Obama 51-47. 2008 Congress: Dreier 53-40.  The profile of CA-50 and CA-26 are similar.  And in both, a Democratic challenger will take a third run at the incumbent.  Russ Warner announced at the Red to Blue dinner that he will run again and build on his efforts against David Dreier in 2008.  In a conversation with Warner, he told me about meeting David Dreier a few weeks ago for the first time.  Dreier asked him, "Are you running against me again?"  Warner replied, "You ran against me, David."  Dreier said, "But you lost."  Warner: "Oh yeah?  You're the one who spent $3 million dollars.  Who lost?"  Indeed, Warner did succeed in draining Dreier's war chest.  Unlike last cycle, Dreier comes into the race with only $700,000 cash on hand.  Obviously these seats require two or three-cycle efforts, so it's good to see Warner back.  And with national help, who knows?  LIKELY REP.

5. CA-48. Incumbent: John Campbell. PVI: R+8. 2008 General: Obama 49.3-48.6. 2008 Congress: Campbell 56-41.  John Campbell, who by the way loves him some Atlas Shrugged, is kind of a nonentity in Congress, and apparently doesn't show himself much at home either.  Steve Young has done yeoman work building the party in this area in recent years.  And now, Beth Krom, an Irvine City Councilwoman, will run to win this seat.  Krom is battle-tested - she's had 5 races over the last decade - and she has capably performed in the largest city in the district.  Krom actually outraised John Campbell in the first quarter of 2009, and she looks to build on that success.  We had a nice interaction with Krom at the CDP Convention, and she led off with a classic line: "This district has the largest cluster of diverse cultures in Orange County, it's 30% Asian and East Indian, and John Campbell has never spoken to somebody who doesn't look like him."  She talked about her affordable housing strategies in Irvine, and the green strategies that have won national acclaim.  Folks in Orange County told me she's the best candidate they've had to go up against a Republican incumbent in years.  Watch this race.  LIKELY REP.

6. CA-45. Incumbent: Mary Bono Mack. PVI: R+3. 2008 General: Obama 51-47. 2008 Congress: Bono Mack 58-42.  I thought Julie Bornstein really underperformed in this district in 2008, but Mary Bono Mack is kind of a slippery character.  She always adds enough votes to her resume to give the appearance of moderation (sometimes by voting for right-wing motions to recommit and then voting for the final bill so it looks like she's a supporter), and given that she's married to a Floridian and lives in Washington, she rarely comes back to the district.  This time around, Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, a gay father of two, has announced a run, and he will focus on "jobs, jobs, jobs."  This area shares the profile of a lot of California, with high unemployment and lots of foreclosures.  Pougnet's challenge will be to actually get Bono Mack on the record.  LIKELY REP.

7. CA-46. Incumbent: Dana Rohrabacher. PVI: R+6. 2008 General: McCain 50-48. 2008 Congress: Rohrabacher 53-43.  Dana Rohrabacher remains crazy, but he managed to survive a major challenge from Debbie Cook in 2008.  Cook has shown no indication that she will run again, and because this seat is not one of the eight "Obama Republican" races that national Democrats have targeted, it is unlikely they will offer much in recruitment if Cook looks elsewhere.  Still, if Cook does change her mind, this race would move back onto the radar screen.  SAFE REP.

8. CA-04. Incumbent: Tom McClintock. PVI: R+10. 2008 General: McCain 54-44. 2008 Congress: McClintock 50.3-49.7.  Obviously the chances in this race rise or fall on the entry of Charlie Brown into the race.  Brown was in attendance at the CDP Convention, and he publicly mulled a run at an event with Gavin Newsom in Placer County recently.  So he hasn't closed his mind to the option.  Meanwhile, McClintock has been as obstructionist and nutty as you'd expect.  I particularly enjoyed his Baghdad Bob claim that California didn't have a water shortage.  Locally, sources tell me that McClintock is not well-liked by his fellow Republican electeds, who aren't getting their phone calls returned.  But it all hinges on Brown.  SAFE REP.

9. CA-24. Incumbent: Elton Gallegly. PVI: R+4. 2008 General: Obama 51-48.  2008 Congress: Gallegly 58-42. This seat has been trending to the Democrats for some time, but the right candidate to challenge Elton Gallegly has yet to emerge.  Last year Marta Jorgensen raised very little in her race and still took 42%.  Gallegly is always a threat to retire - he actually did it in 2006 before being coaxed back - so that option remains as well.  Small businessman Shawn Stern has announced so far.  SAFE REP.

10. CA-25. Incumbent: Buck McKeon. PVI: R+6. 2008 General: Obama 49-48.  2008 Congress: McKeon 58-42. Much like CA-24, this expansive district his been trending Democratic.  In fact, no seat has a closer registration gap that's currently held by a Republican.  But the Democratic Party infrastructure just seems to be lacking out here.  Jackie Conaway raised I think $10,000 total for her entire race last year.  She still managed 42% of the vote against Buck McKeon.  There is certainly a profile of a Democratic candidate that could attract serious votes out here.  But that person does not yet exist.  Meanwhile, McKeon thinks Barack Obama broke into his house, or something.  SAFE REP.

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As far as CA-03 and Phil Angelides goes... (0.00 / 0)
...Dr. Bill Durston, an absolute (electoral) political beginner running an improvised campaign, vastly outperformed Angelides in CA-03 in 2006. (Durston got 38 percent of the vote, Angelides got a mere 27 percent of the gubernatorial vote.)

Sure, sure, Angelides was up against the enigmatic starpower of the Governator, and so therefore this should best be considered as an apples and oranges type of comparison.  (Noting that Durston up against Lungren, pre-ABC News expose, faced an uphill starpower struggle of his own.)

I think the relevant factor to consider here, though, is a candidate's attractiveness to voters registered as Decline To State.  Phil Angelides may appeal to registered Democrats, and may have even honed his campaigning chops since his ignoble gubernatorial defeat...but in a PVI R+6 district, you need a candidate that appeals to the DTS voter.

What's more, the Elk Grove portion of the district has been devastated by the housing bubble.  Environmentalists in the district are livid over the irresponsible growth pushed by developers in greenbelt areas.  Regardless of whatever bandwagon Angelides has jumped onto to earn a living lately, he has unquestionable skeletons in his closet as far as the home-building industry goes...red meat for the populist attack dogs of the hypocritical right.

Angelides lacks any connection to the grassroots activists of the district, so it's doubtful if any draft movement should be seen as anything other than him parachuting into a DCCC targeted contest, relying on his supposed statewide donor base (that will likely be taxed by the gubernatorial and US Senate contests) to fund a purely media-driven campaign.  

Hmm.  Have I thrown enough of a damp towel over this CA-03 grassfire? Well, then let this National Journal article re-ignite the Garamendi speculation.

Apples to Oranges Is Right (4.00 / 1)
In your zeal to support Garamendi, you've substituted speculation and wishful thinking for analysis.  

First of all you can't compare Presidential election years with non-Presidential election years.  Obama brought out a lot of the unlikely and occasional voters, who tend to vote Democratic.  Also, the composition of the district changed, with GOP registration declining almost 3% and Dem registration increasing 1.5%. Finally, Dems increased their lead in generic ballot tests from (according to Gallup) 7% in 2006 among likely voters to 12% in 2008. So the political landscape in CA-03 was drastically different in 2006 and 2008. It's to Durston's credit that he did as well as he did in his race against Lungren, but do you think that if Durston had run against Arnold that he'd have done better in CA-03 than Angelides did? If not, I hope you see how unapt your comparison is.  

Second of all, your comments about DTS and Angelides is completely hand-wavey. In 2006, DiFi who crushed Dick Mountjoy 59.5% to 35% statewide nonetheless only received 48.8% of the vote in CA-03. Does this mean DTS voters don't like DiFi?

It's actually kind of funny because Angelides underperformed Democratic registration in CA-03 by a significant margin in 2006.  So by your logic are we to believe that Angelides, the Democrat who won the heavily contested Democratic primary, isn't liked by Democrats either? Or could it be the fact that he was running against an incumbent Governor with near 100% name ID who is most often cast in movies as the action hero and who, despite anything he does, is constantly painted as a moderate, indpendent Republican? I mean, the Anglides fight was always much more of an uphill battle than fighting Lungren would ever be.

I'll grant you that the Angelides' campaign imploded and a lot of the progressive orgs with campaign capacity triaged and redirected their resources elsewhere once it became clear that Angelides was going down. I've heard that the SEIU UHW auto-dialers in Oakland were switched from supporting Angelides to McNerney weeks before the election. And I know some staffers were similarly re-assigned. But the complexity of running for Governor and for Congress is vastly different.

Also, anyone who thinks Angelides' fundraising success is predicated upon his old lists is missing the bigger picture. From what I've been told, Angelides got his start in Democratic politics as a fundraiser and he raised a ton of money when he was Chair of the State Party. He did so under different constraints than he'd face in a Federal race in 2009, but I've been told he's been raising money for Congressional candidates so he presumably has figured out how to deal with those constraints.  

Finally, I think the whole second to last paragraph is a strawman based upon questionable assumptions. Angelides has strong ties to the large number of Democratic activists who aren't grassroots (at least, not grassroots under everyone's definition) but who are nonetheless part of the Sacramento political activist base. The guy was the Chair of the CA Dem Party and the Democratic nominee for governor who ran as the progressive candidate in the primary and received the party endorsement. This doesn't happen without you making a lot of friends in Sacramento. While there is room to look at the effects of his political campaign methodology or the ideas he has about how to run a campaign, he wouldn't exactly be the Steve Filson of 2009 were he to run in CA-03.


[ Parent ]
Sure, I got zeal... (0.00 / 0)
...but I ain't no zealot.  Garamendi was the gubernatorial candidate that I was more or less liking best.  Okay, now he's running for Congress, whatever.  But I was in no hurry to let any zeal I have (for pushing him to run in the right district) cloud my analysis on this Draft Angelides idea...

First off, I wasn't comparing midterm years to Presidential years. I only referenced 2006 numbers, in anticipation of 2010. Midterms to midterms are apples to apples.

You're right - Obama turnout certainly shook things up, as did Prop 8. Of course both of those huge draws also resulted in a causal voter attitude to less-sexy downticket races, with undervotes in Sacramento Country more than making up the difference for the CA-03 race. Not sure why you brought up an oranges election year, other than to drive home how different the district has become.

Moving on, yes, I may agree with you again.  It is possible that, based on his underperforming Dem registration, that he is not liked by some Democrats.  These voters might've been awe-struck by Ahnold.  Or they actually might not like Angelides, or felt him to be a weak candidate.  Or he reminded them of all they disliked about Davis, fairly or not.

Lastly, if he still is a good fundraiser (institutional? bundling? individual donations?) that might make the DCCC happy, but can he win? Could he beat Lungren?

And how again is a former Chair of the CDP supposed to be appealling to DTS voters? Oh and, I love the reference, but lets be honest, people outside of CA-11 only know who Steve Filson is because of one reason: Pombo lost. If Angelides runs, Lungren will win.  Wanna bet?

[ Parent ]
Probably moot but... (0.00 / 0)
...figured you deserved a response.

To start off with, I misunderstood your point about Durston vs. Angelides, thinking that your point was that Durston in 2008 beat Angelides' 2006 performance. Still, even if you look at 2006, it's not apples to apples because of the differences in their opponents and because it's not clear to me that Angelides was really campaigning to win in CA-03. It's pretty typical for Democratic statewide campaigns to focus on winning in the Bay Area and LA to the exclusion of other parts of the state. If you want to crank your base, you don't do that (at least in traditional campaigning) by spending a lot of time and resources in red districts. If that's what Angelides did, his 2006 performance in CA-03 is still not really a good contrast with Durston's 2006 performance in CA-03.    

Also, I think it's interesting how you've kind of bought into the GOP messaging around Angelides.  Let's be honest, most people weren't responding to Angelides the person, they were responding to Angelides the brand as it was marketed to them by the Dems and the GOP. Max Cleland the brand was associated with an insufficient lack of patriotism in the view of a lot of misguided voters in 2004. But that doesn't make Max Cleland unpatriotic.  Nor does it mean that in a different context Cleland couldn't rehabilitate his brand or that changing circumstances would make the same tired GOP marketing efforts less successful. People's attitudes change and different messaging and different voter contact tactics can change people's perception about the candidate.  But we should distinguish between characteristics that inhere in the candidate (e.g. their temperament, their abilities, their politics) and the bullshit that gets thrown at them to discredit their brands (flip-flopper, unpatriotic, dweeb, etc.). I'll grant you that Angelides could be charismatic and that his campaign had piss poor messaging, but he wasn't the reincarnation of Gray Davis and he wouldn't position himself as such if he ever ran for something else (which is increasingly looking unlikely). Not having Arnold as a foil would certainly help in this respect.

Given the fact that folks are now saying that Angelides won't run, this discussion is probably academic.  But I think it's important because it's only by looking at these things that we can really assess whether Candidate A or Candidate B would win. We get caught up in these narratives and we see how there's a plausible story and like to then posit that the story is how things would have unfolded if things were different or how things will unfold if things continue to proceed as they are into the future. I think you've done that somewhat and that's why I said you weren't engaged in deep analysis.  The facts don't interpret themselves and so it's important that we really assess the strength of the connections between the data points we proffer and the implications we take from them.

You might in fact be right that Angelides would be taken to be an unwelcome imposition from the DCCC by the grassroots in the district, but I don't see any strong reason to think you are. You might be right that Angelides is vulnerable to messaging around his career as a developer, but Steve Westley tried that line of attack and it didn't work so well, so I'm not so sure it's a fatal flaw. Also, I find it hard to believe that voters would accept Dan Lungren as a credible messenger of a pro-environment critique of his opponent.  I'll grant you that I might be utterly wrong, but I still think you have a lot of work to do to show us that we have reason to think you're right.      


[ Parent ]
And your ignoring my third-to-last paragraph... (0.00 / 0)
...is glaring. Lungren would pick that gauntlet up and run with it, have no doubt about it.

[ Parent ]
David, thanks for giving props to Steve Young (0.00 / 0)
for building the party in CA-48.  Without candidates who are willing to sacrifice themselves to build up our base and give locals a chance to cut their teeth in campaigns so they'll be ready when a chance arrives down the road - we'd be nowhere.  I hope Krom wins, and she'll have a lot to thank Steve Young for chipping away in this district if she does.  

Need a contact # for a CA Legislator? Check here

Two candidates in CA-03 (0.00 / 0)
Besides Dr. Amerish Bera there is another candidate mulling a run. Gary Davis, an Elk Grove City Council member is says he will be running "a VERY strong campaign." I don't know if he has filed yet, but he did say he met with the DCCC on Tuesday and is putting together his team.

Davis also told me, "I spoke with someone close to Phil [Angelides] - he is NOT running."

When Bill Durston decided to not run we just hoped we could find a candidate. Now there are two, possibly more in waiting. What is known is John Garamendi and Angelides won't be one of them. I hope we can get down to one candidate and avoid a contested primary. It won't help us win this ripe district.  

let me say (0.00 / 0)
that we can agree or disagree on the value of primaries, but I don't put a ton of stock in a comment about Angelides' plan to run from the guy who wants to run in his place.  Let's say that he has a certain incentive to tell you that.

I have heard independently that Phil's not looking at it, but my whole point here was to push him in that direction.

[ Parent ]
I'm not (0.00 / 0)
putting too much stock in either report. It is easier to believe Angelides is not seeking the seat, but the info is from one who would benefit and one I'm not sure I trust.

I get the feeling this guy is trying to steamroll his way in and clear the field. He is the political director for EdVoice, the same group that Cabaldon was connected with. I didn't like their tactics or their candidate then, and I'm not getting warm fuzzies with this one.

[ Parent ]
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