Politics & Government

Dan Walters: Two issues put California House seats in crosshairs

Dan Walters
Dan Walters

Two sagas have dominated national politics this year – the federal government’s partial shutdown because of a partisan stalemate and the very rocky launch of the national health care program.

The first, polls indicate, damaged Republicans’ image among voters while the second has driven President Barack Obama’s approval rating sharply downward.

Both parties, therefore, will enter the 2014 congressional campaigns with political baggage, although at the moment, at least, the health care imbroglio appears to be having more impact on the national consciousness.

There’s no California Senate election next year, but the state has the nation’s largest congressional delegation, saw a big turnover in House seats in 2012 – largely because of new districts drawn by an independent commission – and will have an unusually large number of targeted seats in 2014.

More than a half-dozen California seats are in the cross hairs of strategists in both parties, and their propaganda machines are running in high gear, trying to tie the targeted incumbents to the two dominant issues.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is trying to pin the government shutdown on three Republicans it sees as vulnerable, Jeff Denham of Turlock, David Valadao of Hanford and Gary Miller of Diamond Bar.

The Republican campaign apparatus, meanwhile, is concentrating its health care fire on first-term Democrats Ami Bera of Elk Grove, Julia Brownley of Santa Monica, Raul Ruiz of Palm Desert and San Diego’s Scott Peters.

Obviously, too, party strategists are raising money and planning defensive campaigns for their vulnerable incumbents.

All of the targets occupy seats with close voter registration margins, which make them potentially vulnerable, especially in an off-year election when voter turnout will likely be much lower than it was in the 2012 presidential election.

Challengers are being recruited and groomed against all of those targeted incumbents, and the political and personal records of would-be challengers themselves are being scrutinized for campaign ammunition.

Meanwhile, a few other seats are being watched for signs of potential vulnerability, especially those of Democrats who supported the Affordable Care Act with their votes or their voices.

There are also rumbles that immigration reform – or its lack – could emerge as a major issue. The latter is why two of the three targeted Republicans, Denham and Valadao, have bucked their party on the immigration issue.

With no Senate race on tap next year and with Democrats virtually guaranteed to win all statewide offices – including governor – the congressional races could be the state’s most important political arena next year. And their outcomes could conceivably play a role in determining control of the House and thus the tenor of the last two years of Obama’s presidency.