Months ago, without saying it publicly, Democrats gave up hopes of regaining control of the House of Representatives and began concentrating resources on saving their command of the U.S. Senate.
That shift of emphasis, coupled with the natural dynamics of nonpresidential elections and the prospect of a very low-turnout November election, has raised Republicans’ hopes of recouping their 2012 congressional losses in California.
As many as eight Democratic members, especially four first elected in 2012, could be at risk this year.
This year’s campaigns began with what appeared to be a certain Democratic gain in San Bernardino County’s 31st Congressional District.
Two years ago, thanks to multiple Democrats on the top-two ballot, two Republicans made it to the November runoff despite lopsided Democratic registration.
The GOP winner, Gary Miller, didn’t even bother to run for re-election this year; nevertheless, history almost repeated itself when one Republican finished first in last week’s primary and another came within a whisker of finishing second.
Democrat Pete Aguilar apparently eked out second place and is now favored to win the seat.
Beyond the 31st CD, however, things look a bit dicey for Democrats, in part because their incumbents and candidates fared poorly in the low-turnout primary.
Based on voting history and last week’s outcomes, the authoritative Cook’s Political Report sees eight Democratic members at risk in California, with the most endangered being first-termers Ami Bera of Elk Grove, Julia Brownley of Thousand Oaks and Scott Peters of San Diego.
All three face well-known, well-financed and moderate Republican challengers – former Rep. Doug Ose, Assemblyman Jeff Gorell and former City Councilman Carl DeMaio – in districts with conservative, even Republican voting histories.
Cook’s sees another first-termer, Palm Springs’ Raul Ruiz, as only slightly less vulnerable vis-a-vis GOP Assemblyman Brian Nestande, another well-known moderate.
Meanwhile, just two Republican incumbents, Turlock’s Jeff Denham and Hanford’s David Valadao, have even a theoretical vulnerability due to voter registration, but both clobbered Democratic opponents in the primary and neither looks truly endangered.
Democrats contend that last week’s primary, with a record-low voter turnout, is not indicative of what will happen in November.
Turnout in the fall will be higher – but lower than in the 2012 presidential election and perhaps, in relative terms, as low as the primary, lacking burning statewide contests or ballot measures to lure voters.
A reasonable guess would be that Democrats lose a seat or two in the state this year – but most importantly don’t make the big California gains they’d need to retake the House.