On the night electoral lightening struck the Deep South, Regina Bateson stood in a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd at fundraiser for her congressional campaign in Sacramento, and delivered the happy news: “Doug Jones has won in Alabama.”
Bateson, a mother of three young boys, grew up in Roseville, went off to Stanford, joined the U.S. Foreign Service, got a doctorate at Yale, taught at MIT, was stunned by Donald Trump’s victory, and returned home to join the resistance by running for Congress.
The amped-up crowd hooted and hollered at word of Jones’ victory, finding hope that in Republican Roy Moore’s defeat, a Democratic woman could wrest Congressional District 4, one of California’s reddest districts, away from one of California’s most well-known Republicans, Tom McClintock.
“If they can do it in Alabama, we can do it in CD4,” one of Bateson’s volunteers, Stephanie McCorkle, shouted out at the Tuesday evening event, at the Curtis Park home of my former colleague Ginger Rutland and her husband, Don Fields.
Bateson is one of two leading Democratic candidates taking aim at McClintock. The other is Jessica Morse, who’s part of a family whose roots in the district go back five generations. Morse tells of a great-grandfather who won a gold mine in a poker game, and of hiking, fishing and hunting throughout the Sierra, unlike McClintock, who prefers gray suits and shiny shoes to jeans and hiking boots, and resides in Elk Grove, 40 miles from the nearest district line.
Morse, Bateson and the people who packed the house reflect Democrats’ intensity heading into 2018. But even in this time of Trump, Democratic enthusiasm can go only so far. In 2016, voters in seven of California’s congressional districts held by Republicans sided with Hillary Clinton. McClintock’s district, which runs from Roseville east to Tahoe and south to Yosemite, wasn’t among them.
Trump carried Congressional District 4 by 52,000 votes, with McClintock as an enthusiastic backer, even after the “Access Hollywood” tape exposed our soon-to-be president boasting about sexually assaulting women.
Republicans hold a 43-29 percent registration advantage over Democrats in the district. Many of the decline-to-state voters are said to have bolted the GOP because it is too squishy. Consultant Paul Mitchell of Political Data Inc. estimates that there are 142,000 likely Republican voters in a general election, compared with 93,400 Democrats and 54,000 decline-to-state voters. In other words, McClintock starts with half the likely voters.
Roughly 256,000 of the voters are white, fewer than 20,000 are Latinos, and the vast majority are 50 and older. It is the heart of the State of Jefferson, more like Alabama than urban California.
In Alabama, Democrat Doug Jones won the Senate seat largely because Roy Moore had a thing for teenage girls when he was in his 30s. McClintock is no Roy Moore. McClintock is a known quantity, having won his first election at age 26 in 1982, shortly after Morse and Bateson were born. He served most of the next 26 years in the Legislature until he won his congressional seat in 2008. In between, he ran for twice for governor, twice for controller and once for lieutenant governor.
McClintock generally wins his congressional races with 60 percent or 62 percent of the vote, though there was 2008, the year he eked out a win by a mere 1,800 votes over a Democrat who had never held elective office. That haunts him.
For all his campaigning, McClintock is not big fundraiser. Business donors who generally finance Republicans don’t view him as reliable, though he recently received $10,000 from Koch Industries, the conglomerate run by billionaires David and Charles Koch.
In his most recent campaign finance filing, McClintock reported having $353,700 in the bank, not enough to fend off a serious challenge. Bateson had $123,000 and Morse had $247,000, surprisingly large sums for first-time candidates running against the odds.
On the strength of that fundraising, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee deemed McClintock to be a potential target. Billionaire activist Tom Steyer gave $100,000 to the group Sierra Forward to register voters. Politico called McClintock vulnerable. Maybe, though I’ve seen McClintock dispatch many worthy foes. See: former Rep. Doug Ose, Iraq war veteran Art Moore, and one who thought better of it, former Rep. Dan Lungren.
But something clearly is happening.
Even though 76,000 of his constituents depend on the Affordable Care Act, McClintock voted for the Republican bill to unravel Obamacare, the one Trump later called mean. For that, McClintock weathered angry protests at his town halls.
More recently, McClintock broke from Trump and the GOP by voting against the House Republican version of the tax bill that would cut corporate taxes but raise taxes on many Californians. It remains to be seen where the nimble politician lands when the final bill comes to a vote in the new few days.
Odds are against the women who are running to unseat McClintock. But Republicans no doubt are taking note.
Waves do build every few years. And on rare occasions, even the most entrenched incumbents get washed away.