Dan Walters: Democrats' congressional hopes in California fade

dwalters@sacbee.comJuly 16, 2012 

Dan Walters

Democrats would need to gain 25 seats this year to recapture control of the House of Representatives, and "the road to the majority runs through California," Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi once declared.

Democratic operatives had expressed private hopes that the party could pick up as many as eight seats in California's 53-member House delegation this year, although their more public goal was five or six seats.

Never mind.

In the aftermath of the June 5 primary, Democrats' hopes for a big California gain and resuming control of the House that they lost in 2010 have plummeted. Democrats may gain California congressional seats this year, adding to the 34 they now hold, but it's likely to be one or two at most. They could lose ground.

Early in the year, some gains for Democrats seemed inevitable, even though they didn't control redistricting after the 2010 census.

The 2001 redistricting was a bipartisan gerrymander by the Legislature, aimed at preserving the partisan status quo. So the 2011 version, done by an independent commission, had to deal with 20 years of demographic change, especially growth of Latino and other Democratic-leaning ethnic populations that the 2001 process ignored.

The commission's plan, however, also ignored incumbency, which has meant that in a couple of the new districts, Democratic congressional members were forced to run against each other. The most spectacular example is the multimillion-dollar shootout between Southern California Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman.

The major factor in lowering Democratic congressional ambitions in California, however, is the party's operational lapses – i.e., failure to get their designated candidates past the "top-two" primary and into the November runoff.

The most obvious example is in Southern California's 31st Congressional District, which voted Democratic in the 2008 presidential election.

Democrats hoped to oust Republican Rep. Gary Miller with Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, but Aguilar finished third in the primary to Miller and Republican state Sen. Bob Dutton, which means a GOP win is guaranteed.

Democratic campaign operatives also blew it in the San Joaquin Valley's 21st District when their anointed candidate, Fresno City Councilman Blong Xiong, also finished third. That makes Republican Assemblyman David Valadao the likely winner in November.

Several Democratic incumbents, meanwhile, face stiff Republican challenges in newly redrawn districts, and party leaders are worried about tepid voter turnout.

National political handicappers, such as the Rothenberg Political Report and The Hill, have concluded that with their shortcomings in California, Democrats' chances of recapturing the House this year now have declined to near-zero.

Modesto Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service