Republican Doug Ose had little trouble dispatching a pair of GOP rivals Tuesday, advancing to a fall showdown with Democratic Rep. Ami Bera for the right to represent suburban Sacramento County’s 7th Congressional District.
Ose, a wealthy land developer who served three terms in Congress, survived an onslaught of attacks from the left and right to easily outpoll Republicans Igor Birman and Elizabeth Emken. Bera, seeking a second term in the U.S. House of Representatives, cruised to a first-place finish.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Bera had 47 percent of the vote and Ose 27 percent. Birman had 17 percent and Emken 7 percent.
A Bera-Ose matchup is expected to produce one of the most closely watched and expensive House contests in the nation given the district’s nearly even partisan divide.
Ose lost a primary bid four years ago after stepping aside from Congress in 2005. He used his familiarity with the region and fundraising advantage to blanket the district with mailers and TV ads that touted him as the only conservative in the race.
Throughout the primary, he positioned himself as most prepared to revive the slowly recovering economy, lower taxes and dial back regulations. Another major theme he espoused was repealing the federal health care overhaul.
“I think Congressman Bera has a record that does not line up with the interests of this district and we’re going to ask him to explain that over and over and over again,” Ose said.
His campaign argued that in his previous stint in Congress, he cast hundreds of votes to slash taxes, reduce wasteful spending and strengthen immigration laws. In pledging to help end the gridlock in Congress, the 58-year-old often turned to the same lines he used in his first run for office in 1998: To hold government accountable for the promises it makes, the money it spends and the results it delivers.
But after focusing his early attacks on Bera, Ose was forced in recent weeks to engage with Birman and a Democratic-affiliated super PAC. The change in strategy came after Birman tapped his national following to raise nearly $150,000 in just six weeks. The House Majority PAC spent nearly $200,000 to criticize Ose for not supporting military veterans and boosting his own congressional pay.
Ose, in return, accused Birman of supporting drug legalization efforts and said the Democratic PAC was mounting a deceptive campaign to help Birman advance to the general election. In all, Ose raised more than $1 million, including $350,000 of his own money.
He benefited from $300,000 in outside spending by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Birman, the chief of staff to Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, was Ose’s main antagonist. He condemned the former congressman for supporting earmarks, accepting farm subsidies while serving on the House Agriculture Committee and having a liberal record out of step with area Republicans. In a series of ads, Birman also ripped Ose for voting for higher taxes, supporting debt ceiling increases that ran into the trillions and receiving low marks from gun-rights groups.
Birman, a tea party favorite with big-name endorsements from U.S. Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee and Reps. Jim Jordan and Raul Labrador, spent much of the primary recalling his immigrant story. A product of the Soviet Union, Birman told audiences at district rallies and on national conservative talk radio that he has a story to tell about freedom because he lived in its absence.
He promised to help repeal the federal health care law and opposed efforts to pass immigration changes granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants. Displaying a strong libertarian streak, Birman took a state’s rights approach to legalizing drugs, opposed the use of drones in most cases and said he wanted to end warrantless surveillance of ordinary Americans by the National Security Agency.
His fundraising total, which had surpassed $500,000 by May 14, was supplemented by modest outside help from groups such as Gun Owners of America, Concerned American Voters and the tea party-aligned FreedomWorks PAC.
Playing the role of the sleeper was Emken, who took traditionally conservative positions on abortion and reducing regulations and taxes.
General election spending in the race is likely to grow. In 2012, the rematch between Bera and former GOP Rep. Dan Lungren featured a barrage of money from outside interests, saturating the region with messages on such issues as Medicare, taxes and abortion.