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Rep. Ami Bera, a first-term Democrat from Elk Grove, is front and center when Republicans list the seats they aim to win in 2014.
Rep. Jeff Denham, a second-term Republican from Turlock, is near the top of the Democrats’ hit list.
It’s clear why national parties say Bera and Denham are vulnerable. They are. They represent classic swing districts. Registration is evenly split, although Democrats have a slight edge. Neither is particularly well known in his district.
Bera is a physician and an academic who was associate dean of admissions at UC Davis School of Medicine before entering politics. He lost his first campaign, a run for Congress against veteran Republican Dan Lungren in 2010, and then narrowly defeated Lungren last year.
Denham is an Air Force veteran who owns a plastics business. He entered politics in 2000, when he lost an Assembly race, and won a state Senate race in 2002 against veteran Democratic politician Rusty Areias.
In a sense, their political future could well be told now, as the federal shutdown enters its third week.
Bera, who is siding with Democrats, had kind words for Denham when we spoke last week: “I think Jeff is one of the more reasonable members who understands this is not the best way to do business.”
Denham, a Republican, is voting with fellow House Republicans, insisting that President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats negotiate over the Affordable Care Act. Denham did not return calls.
Jeff Denham on Obamacare
Denham has voted with Republicans 46 times and counting to defund all or part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare: “I don’t like it. I think it’s bad for my district,” he said on CNN earlier this month.
Ami Bera on Obamacare
Bera has never voted to defund Obamacare but believes it doesn’t do enough to control health care costs: “I’m moderately to very concerned. I have been consistently concerned about the cost of care going up,” he told The Sacramento Bee on May 1.
Whither the shutdown?
Denham: “What we are holding on to right now under this current funding level, under this short-term bill, we’re not just going to hand over the checkbook. What we’ve asked for is an issue of fairness,” he told CNN.
Bera: “There are pockets of optimism. It is incredibly dangerous if it goes on into (this) week. We need to get something put together at a minimum by Friday. Speaker (John) Boehner has painted himself into a corner,” he told me in an interview last week.
The National Republican Congressional Committee issued this release after the House vote that led to the shutdown: “Ami Bera’s disgraceful vote proves just how out of touch he truly is,” said NRCC Communications Director Andrea Bozek. “Instead of fighting for families, he voted to protect Obamacare’s exemptions for Congress and unfair delay for big business.”
Bera answers: “The election is pretty far off. I think people are frustrated with Congress. I am doing everything I can to get Congress working again. Democrats and Republicans have to figure out to work together in a divided government. I would hope people in the district see me as a problem solver,” he said last week.
Americans United for Change began ads last week attacking Republicans in swing districts over the shutdown. “Jeff Denham joined with tea party Republicans in Congress and shut down our government putting critical benefits for veterans, seniors and the disabled at risk. Denying cancer treatment for kids. Economists say Jeff Denham’s tea party’s shutdown could weaken the economy.”
Denham answers: “They’ve been targeting me for years. I do what I think is right, not only based on my strong beliefs but more importantly on my district. I’m worried about $17 trillion of debt and the kids in my district and the debt that they’re going to take on. I’m concerned about the jobs in my community,” he told Politico in September.
– Dan Morain