Republican congressional candidate Scott Jones had paused between canvassing homes over the weekend to reflect on his campaign against Rep. Ami Bera, an Elk Grove Democrat, when the conversation meandered to history.
“Twenty years, at least, right?” Jones asked, trying to recall the last time a Republican ousted a sitting House Democrat in California.
It’s been 22 years. But who’s counting, particularly this year?
That Jones, who has served as the nonpartisan county sheriff since 2010, is playing offense in an election cycle in which many GOP House incumbents are fighting for political survival is what brought him Saturday morning to a quiet street in Carmichael.
With a clipboard-carrying aide trailing a few steps behind him, Jones hit several empty houses before coming across a supporter.
A couple walking their dog told Jones they’d already voted for him. A man standing by his truck greeted Jones warmly but said he really didn’t want to support his congressional bid – prompting Jones to cock his head, puzzled. The man clarified that it was because he wanted him to stay on as the county sheriff. A neighbor commiserated with Jones about the tough TV ads against him.
Nobody he came across mentioned Bera, or Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who is viewed as a drag on many Republicans running in marginal districts across California. Jones himself disavowed Trump after the release of a video showing the New York developer talking about women in vulgar terms.
On Saturday, Jones said he feels good about his chances Tuesday.
“Every measurable metric is very positive for us,” he said. “We obviously were (outspent) by the congressman, so we had to be more particular and strategic about where we spent resources, time and energy. With three days left, I spent a lot of time looking back, as well as looking forward, and I really can’t say that we should have or could have done anything different.”
Bera, who beat Republican Doug Ose by 1,455 votes two years ago in the nation’s most expensive House race, far out-raised Jones. As of Oct. 19, Bera had raised $3.6 million and spent $3.3 million, compared with Jones, who took in nearly $1.2 million and spent about $1.1 million. Outside groups have poured in roughly $8.9 million to support and oppose them.
After rallying supporters in Elk Grove with Sacramento Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg, Bera returned to a Carmichael block where he had campaigned in the final days of the race two years before.
“Seventy-two hours to go,” Bera said as he approached a house. “This is where we have always shined, you know, getting out the vote.”
“We are sending out tons of volunteers to go out there and talk to voters, make sure if they vote by mail they get those ballots in there.”
He added: “Two stamps. Get those ballots in.”
Bera signs appeared near a home where a couple pledged their support. He told them he felt better than he did two years ago against Ose, later pointing to a trio of factors lifting his own assessment of his chances on Tuesday.
Nearly 116,000 ballots from the 7th District have been returned by voters, and the more voters the better things generally go for Democrats. Some 44 percent of the ballots have come from Democrats, vs.36 percent from Republicans.
Bera noted Republicans are spending heavily to defend his colleague, GOP Rep. Jeff Denham of Turlock, over Democrat Michael Eggman. That race on Friday surpassed the spending in the Bera-Jones contest.
Bera also pointed to his own volunteer effort on the ground as his largest ever.
“We have always won it on the ground. And we have an even bigger grass-roots campaign this year,” Bera said. “I feel cautiously confident. … But you run until you cross the finish line.”