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Opposing Trump paying off for vulnerable California Democrat

Liberal protesters, Trump supporters meet at Bera town hall

Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, held a rowdy, but largely supportive, town hall meeting in Sacramento.
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Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, held a rowdy, but largely supportive, town hall meeting in Sacramento.

Rep. Ami Bera is getting an assist on his 2018 campaign – from President Donald Trump.

A new independent poll from the University of California, Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) found that a plurality of likely voters – 48 percent are inclined to re-elect the Democratic incumbent in the Sacramento-area swing district. Another 44 percent are not, while just 8 percent are undecided.

Bera’s job approval rating is slightly stronger: 48 percent approve of the third-term congressman, while 40 percent disapprove. The net positive approval rating is solid, if not spectacular, for someone who in three elections has never won his seat by more than two percentage points. And it’s a contrast from polling IGS released Tuesday that found two of California’s most vulnerable Republican incumbents had approval ratings in the high 30’s.

“I think the wind is more at Bera’s back whereas the Republicans are pretty much facing headwinds,” said IGS Poll Director Mark DiCamillo. All three surveys were conducted between Jan. 11 and 21.

Bera’s grasp on the district, moreover, appears to be strengthened by his opposition to key Trump-backed policies. That runs contrary to Republican talking points, which have attacked the doctor for taking his marching orders from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco.

Half of the likely voters surveyed say the third-term congressman’s opposition to Republicans’ new tax plan makes them more inclined to support his re-election, compared to 39 percent who say it made them less likely to do so. On healthcare, 49 percent of likely voters say Bera’s “no” vote on the House bill to repeal and replace Obamacare makes them more supportive; 36 percent say it makes them less so.

In general, majorities of likely voters in the district, which covers eastern and southern portions of Sacramento County, have negative views of both Republican priorities. Fifty-six percent oppose the GOP effort to repeal and replace the 2010 healthcare law and 57 percent oppose the tax law Congress passed in December.

Republicans are trying to change the narrative on taxes, pointing to bigger paychecks and bonuses many workers are taking home. But that’s a harder sell in California, which is disproportionately impacted by the decision to restrict the federal deduction for state and local income taxes. As of now, Bera “clearly seems to be benefiting from the ‘no’ votes that he cast on the tax vote and Obamacare repeal,” said DiCamillo. “That seems to be in sync with district voters.”

District voters also overwhelmingly support preserving the legal status of young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers,” which President Trump has put in jeopardy. And two-thirds oppose allowing offshore drilling off California’s coast, something the Trump administration is pushing to expand.

Just 41 percent of likely voters in Bera’s district approve of the president’s job performance, overall, compared to 59 percent who disapprove.

Still, there are some warning signs for the Democrat. The congressional race in the 7th district is usually determined by independent voters, which in California are identified as “no party preference” voters. And they are essentially split on whether Bera deserves reelection.

As DiCamillo pointed out, the quality of Bera’s opponent will also go a long way to determining just how competitive the 2018 race is.

Retired Marine Andrew Grant, Republicans’ top recruit to take on Bera, is struggling financially, his latest federal fundraising report shows. He raised just $45,000 in the final three months of 2017, leaving him with just $113,000 in cash as of Jan. 1, not counting a $60,000 debt. Another GOP challenger, Yona Barash is faring even worse, reporting $79,000 in the bank and $30,000 in debt.

Bera, meanwhile, started 2018 with $1.1 million in the bank, but also reported a sizable debt of nearly $300,000.

Emily Cadei: 202-383-6153, @emilycadei

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