When California’s redistricting commission drew the 7th Congressional District in 2011, it was immediately evident that it would be, as political pros put it, “in play.”
The 7th CD has been a battleground ever since, and another duel is raging this year as Democratic incumbent Ami Bera faces Republican Sheriff Scott Jones with the stakes even higher and the campaigns even nastier.
The 7th CD, encompassing the eastern and southern suburbs of Sacramento, succeeded the old 3rd CD, which had included three Sierra foothill counties that gave it a Republican voter registration plurality.
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Republican Dan Lungren, a former attorney general, inherited the 3rd CD seat from Republican Doug Ose in 2004 and won re-election three times prior to redistricting, including a defeat of Bera in 2010.
However, the change in boundaries gave the district a slight Democratic registration edge, and in 2012 Bera, a physician, narrowly won a rematch, helped immensely by the high voter turnout of a presidential election year.
Two years ago, Ose tried a comeback, and with a record-low statewide voter turnout lost to Bera by just 1,455 votes – close enough that the Republican leadership saw Jones as a potential winner.
However, the Sacramento County sheriff is fighting an uphill battle. GOP registration has slipped, and this year’s turnout is likely to be much higher, which benefits Democrats. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, the bombastic GOP presidential candidate, is likely to lose by millions of votes in California and drag down Republican candidates throughout the state.
However, the 7th CD is the GOP’s only hope, albeit a faint one, of picking up a seat in California as it defends embattled incumbents elsewhere and faces the possibility of losing control of the House in a massive Trump defeat.
That’s why parties and other interests have been pouring big money into the race and why it’s turned very nasty, with daily barrages of television and postal assaults focused largely on the rivals’ character.
Democrats accuse Jones, in the words of one mailer, of “a pattern of disrespecting women,” based on some lawsuits. Meanwhile, GOP attacks focus on Bera’s father’s prison sentence for laundering campaign money, one mailer saying Bera “bought his way to Congress after stuffing his campaign account with … illegal campaign cash …”
Bera and Jones faced each other Tuesday night in their only televised debate, and while it started with sniping over character, mirroring the dueling ads and fliers, it was mostly a civil exchange over issues raised by a panel of questioners.
Jones said a former Sheriff’s Department colleague who accused him of harassment “is lying,” adding, “the allegations are absolutely untrue.” But Bera retorted that the allegations are “pretty disturbing.”
Bera replied, “My father made a mistake,” when asked about the laundering charges but denied he was aware of it. Jones insisted that the hits on Bera on the issue came from outside groups over which he has no control.
Bottom line: Both scored some points, but nothing emerged that would seem to alter the race, and Jones still is playing catch-up.