Democrats Pin Hopes on Calif. to Gain New Seats

By Amy Isackson

For the last decade, California’s races for the United States House of Representatives have held few surprises. Just one seat has changed parties in the last decade. This election, newly drawn district lines have put California in play and emboldened the Democrats, who are depending on the state, help regain the House majority. However, two races in the Inland Empire shows it will be a tough fight.

Democratic candidate Mark Takano has run his campaign for the House of Representatives out of his two-bedroom condo.

He’s a candidate in a newly formed district in Riverside. The Democratic Party hopes he’ll be able to pick up one of the 25 seats they need nationally to take back the House.

“My living room is a mess,” said Takano.

Volunteers and campaign workers who camp out on the couches have left a trail of stains

“We’ve been saving some money by running everything out of a condo. But I think it is a testament to American democracy that in a humble space such as this, we’re going to change the world,” said Takano.

Or, at least help change the balance of power in the House, and give Riverside its first Democratic representative in 20 years.

Takano is a public school teacher. He’s served on the Riverside Community College board for nearly two decades. His opponent is John Tavaglione, a moderate Republican who is a veteran on the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.

On paper, the race looked like a slam-dunk for the Democrats. The party had more than an eight-point registration advantage. However, Takano came in second in the primary. With less than a third of registered voters casting ballots, Republicans outvoted Democrats by about seven percent.

Eric McGhee, an election analyst at the Public Policy Institute of California, says that Democratic turnout will probably bump up this fall.

“When you’re talking about a district that’s kind of a toss-up, it’s on the order of four or five percentage points.”

McGhee says the fact that this is a presidential election year will also help Democrats.

“The general electorate turnout has been climbing, especially in presidential years. And there’s no reason to think that this fall is not going to be a hotly contested presidential race. So, it’s going to be exciting. And we should expect a big turnout.”

However, other dynamics will come into play. Tavaglione is well-known and well-liked, even by some Democrats. And, Brock McCleary, who’s a strategist with the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, says Tavaglione has Takano beat on the financial front.

“Tavaglione has more cash on hand than Takano, and he’s about to have the biggest quarter of his political career,” said McGhee. “You know, he’s really starting to hit the afterburners here out of the primary.”

Takano has the backing of unions and Democratic political action funds. But, he says he can use all the help he can get.

“I think this will be a resource war. Because we have such natural advantages in the district, we don’t need to match them dollar for dollar. We need enough to get the message out.”

Statewide, there are 11 tight races that Democrats hope to win. Four are seats they currently hold and must hang onto. Of the seven other races, analysts say Republicans have the edge in four, Democrats have the advantage in two, and one is a pure tossup.

Just down the road in San Bernardino, a race the Democrats were counting on was wiped off their board. A crowd of Democratic candidates on that ballot split up the vote. Under the new top-two primary system, the two Republicans squeaked by.

Democrats around the Inland Empire call it a political tragedy. The Democrat’s top vote getter, Pete Aguilar, who was shy about just 1000 votes, said he wasn’t ready to talk about it, yet.

Renea Wickman, the Democrat who finished at the bottom of the pack, says people asked her to drop out of the race for fear she’d suck up Aguilar’s votes. In fact, she got about 3500, triple the amount Aguilar needed to get on November’s ticket. But, she says Aguilar had big-time backing and its not her fault he lost.

“If my few little votes could stop half a million dollars and the backing of all the unions and, then hey, I am a powerful woman,” said Wickman. “So, I mean, if you think that I have that much power to do that, then you need to make me your candidate.”

Political analysts say, in the future, parties may try to exert more control over who runs given this new top-two system. Nathan Gonzales, who’s an editor with the Rothenberg Political Report, says California is a tough road:

“I think California looked better for the Democrats six months to a year ago.”

Yet, Jennifer Crider, a strategist with the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee says even though the path to the majority may be steeper than anticipated, it still leads through California.

“We have an opportunity for four to six seats right in California and that’s a significant portion of our strategy and our plan,” said Crider.

Crider says the proof will come in November when she predicts that Democratic candidates, like Takano, will really clean house.