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To flip the House, California Democrats must go big

Activists want to target Rep. Devin Nunes of Tulare to try to win all 14 House seats held by Republicans in California.
Activists want to target Rep. Devin Nunes of Tulare to try to win all 14 House seats held by Republicans in California. AP file

During the presidential election, I remember the constant assurances from polls and pundits that Donald Trump had no chance. When I led the state Senate, I knew a lot of smart people who would make confident predictions about elections.

I learned a valuable lesson: In the world of politics, smart people are often wrong. And some of them aren’t thinking big enough about the 2018 midterm elections.

 
Opinion

California is uniquely positioned to be the epicenter of a blue wave this year, but Democrats will miss our opportunity if we don’t have boots on the ground preparing for success.

Many groups are focused on the seven congressional districts in California that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. In two, incumbent Republicans Darrell Issa and Ed Royce have already announced their retirements.

Who knows what’s to come, so why stop there?

I co-founded Flip the 14, an organization focused on competing in all 14 congressional seats held by Republicans because I believe Democrats should not preemptively give up on districts.

Since we started last summer, we’ve already seen respected political prognosticators including the Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball shift at least five California districts in Democrats’ direction.

In the 50th District, represented by Republican Duncan Hunter, the troubled incumbent is spending more money on legal fees than he can raise in donations. In the 22nd District, held by Republican Devin Nunes, a challenger just released a poll showing that a Democrat would be within 5 percentage points. Clinton didn’t win either district.

This is a trend we expect to continue, and it follows recent elections in Virginia and Alabama, where Democrats won or came close in races not thought to be competitive.

Just imagine if they had California’s electoral laws.

Unlike Republicans in many other states, California Republicans can’t depend on gerrymandered districts or voter suppression. We actually want people to vote in this state, and when they do, that’s bad news for the GOP. With arguably the country’s most inclusive voting laws, the tools are here, some for the first time ever, to expand the map.

With the top-two primary, we can expect multiple statewide races with two well-funded Democratic candidates on the November ballot. They’ll be turning out Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents like never before. And what happens to Republican voters’ enthusiasm when they see precious few “Rs” at the top of the ticket?

I don’t care what’s been done before. I’m looking at what’s possible, and I see a landslide in the making if we play our cards right.

We all know what’s at stake. On a daily basis, Trump proves he’s a dangerous and erratic president who is causing tremendous harm and embarrassment to our great nation. His policies are broadly despised in California, and his support continues to erode. There’s no reason to expect the political climate to improve for Trump or the Republican brand before Election Day.

We need to flip 24 seats nationwide for Democrats to retake the U.S. House. We have 14 opportunities to do so in California.

In 2016, Trump took the rulebook and set it on fire. With all the advantages we have here in California, I’m done settling for what the consultants tell us is possible. I’m ready to Flip the 14.

Don Perata of Oakland is the former president pro tem of the state Senate and co-founder of Flip the 14. He can be contacted at don@flipthe14.com.

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