Dan Walters

Dan Walters: Democrats could lose California congressional seats

Dan Walters
Dan Walters

Democrats picked up several California congressional seats in 2012, but the state – contrary to pre-election cheerleading by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi – didn’t generate enough action to prevent Republicans from retaining control of the House.

As the 2014 political season picks up steam, Democrats face potential congressional losses in the state, for a variety of interlaced factors, to wit:

• Voter turnout counts, as Republican Kevin Faulconer’s win in San Diego’s mayoral race proved again. Turnout would naturally be lower this year than it was for the 2012 presidential election, and Democratic voter motivation could be driven even lower than usual by the likelihood of an easy Democratic sweep of statewide offices.

• The national Democratic Party has, in effect, ceded continued House control to Republicans and is shifting resources into retaining control of the Senate, which is clearly in danger, meaning less money for embattled congressional incumbents in California and elsewhere.

• Last year, the Republican-caused government shutdown competed with the botched rollout of President Barack Obama’s national health insurance for dominance of political consciousness, and the latter, much to Democrats’ dismay, won out, putting them on the defensive.

• Despite his landslide win in California two years ago, Obama’s popularity is in decline, and that could be a factor in otherwise close contests.

• Two very pricey, high-profile Democrat vs. Democrat battles will siphon off money and energy – the duel between state Sen. Ted Lieu and Wendy Greuel for retiring Rep. Henry Waxman’s Southern California seat, and former Commerce Department official Ro Khanna’s challenge, fueled by big bucks from Silicon Valley, of San Jose Rep. Mike Honda, a get-along, go-along six-term veteran.

The authoritative Cook Political Report sees three Democratic first-termers – Ami Bera of Elk Grove, Raul Ruiz of Palm Desert and Scott Peters of San Diego – as very vulnerable due to the factors cited above, plus very slim, if any, voter-registration margins.

All three will likely face well-known, well-financed Republican challengers – former Rep. Doug Ose vs. Bera, Assemblyman Brian Nestande vs. Ruiz and former San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio vs. Peters.

Cook says several other Democrats are a bit shaky: John Garamendi of Walnut Grove, Julia Brownley of Santa Monica and Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton.

Two Republicans who had seemed vulnerable, Jeff Denham of Turlock and David Valadao of Hanford, are looking increasingly secure as challengers lack strong financing.

However, Democrats do have a very good chance of picking up the Southern California seat that Republican Gary Miller won by a fluke in 2012 because Miller announced Wednesday that he is retiring.