California Report host Scott Shafer looks at these races with reporters Tara Siler from KQED in San Francisco, Steven Cuevas who reports from the Inland Empire for KPCC and The California Report’s election editor Tyche Hendricks.
Scott Shafer, Host: One thing is certain for the first time in memory about a dozen Congressional races in California are actually, well, competitive, up in the air, or even toss ups. We’re going to take a look now at some of them, starting in Northern California and working our way south. Reporter Tara Siler is covering the 7th Congressional District, the suburbs of Sacramento and beyond. Incumbent Republican Dan Lungren fighting for his life there, it’s a rematch from the 2010 election against a Democrat physician Ami Bera. So Tara, tell us what makes this race so interesting.
Tara Siler: Well, what makes it interesting is you have a four-term Republican, conservative Republican, who is fighting for his life. And he’s up against Ami Bera for the second time. And this district has changed; it’s more Democratic under redistricting. And Democrats really see an opportunity here to pick off a conservative Republican, and an incumbent at that. It’s attracted a lot of money, $8 million dollars in outside money. It’s one of the most expensive races in the country. And a lot of it is being thrown at Lundgren by these outside groups.
Shafer: At him meaning on his behalf?
Siler: Against him. Against him by Democratic groups.
Shafer: And how is President Obama figuring into that race if at all? I mean, it’s not a super liberal district, it may be more favorable now to the Democrats than it was a couple years ago but to what extent, is President Obama a factor there?
Siler: Well his name isn’t exactly being bandied about by the candidates it doesn’t seem but the issues are. For example, affordable health care is an issue.
Dr. Bera has said it doesn’t go far enough and Lungren has called it “unconstitutional.” And they also have really starkly different views, not surprising, about the role of government. And as you can hear here, here’s Congressman Lundgren at a recent speech at the Chambers of Commerce:
Dan Lungren: There is a difference between the two of us. He has this great faith in the government. I have limited faith in the government; I have expanded faith in the people. Why? Because that is how it has been when we’ve been successful in the past.
Siler: And you know, for his part, Dr. Bera likes to play up his public school education and the need for more investment in education and infrastructure.
Shafer: Alright, and then finally Tara, just to the west in Alameda County, the 15th Congressional District, and unusual situation there, two Democrats facing off thanks to the top-two primary system that voters approved of. And the incumbent there is Pete Stark, one of the most liberal members of Congress. He’s been there 40 years. Why is he so vulnerable?
Siler: Well, he’s vulnerable because he’s 80-years-old and he’s made some charges that he’s had to apologize for, a number of them. He talks off the cuff and gets himself in trouble a lot. And Swalwell is young. I see this as a generational challenge. But the interesting thing is that the endorsements for Stark are just lining up. The Democratic leadership is–
Shafer: Circling the wagon
Siler: Circling the wagon, indeed.
Shafer: Alright Tara Siler, thank you so much. Let’s go now to the Inland Empire, which is truly one of those purple parts of California. It includes Riverside and San Bernardino Counties and tends to go back and forth between Republicans and Democrats in the races for governor and president at least. And a few months ago, Democrats were hoping to pick up one, maybe two seats there, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Reporter Steven Cuevas covers the Inland Empire for KPCC in Los Angeles. And he joins us now.
Steven, what about that 31st Congressional District, San Bernardino. Two Republicans facing off at that race, tell us about it.
Steven Cuevas: Democrats were hoping that they would take this district in the June primary. Pete Aguilar, Mayor of Redlands, the favorite there, he came in third. So now you have Congressman Gary Miller, long-time Congressman serving in Washington, who actually represented the old 42nd District, he’s moved into Rancho Cucamonga to qualify to run in this District. He’s going up against State Senator Bob Dutton. Kind of a local favorite, former Rancho Cucamonga Councilman.
Shafer: And how is the money lining up in that race? You have an incumbent Congressman, although he doesn’t represent that District, versus a pretty well-known Republican, but one who is in the State Legislator.
Cuevas: State Senator Bob Dutton is pretty much been swamped by the fundraising efforts of Congressman Gary Miller, who has actually gotten most of his money from the National Association of Realtors. They’ve poured close to $2 million into this race. Miller is also a home builder and he sits on the Congressional Committee that has oversight over the housing industry.
Shafer: And then Steven, let’s move over a little closer to the city of Riverside to the 41st Congressional District, again, no incumbent running in that District. Democrats have a slight edge in registration, how is that race shaping up?
Cuevas: This one could be a real squeaker. It’s getting a fair amount of national attention as well. You have a long-time Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione, the Republican, going up against the high school teacher and College Board Trustee Mark Takano. Both are well-known in the community, and both are well-respected.
Shafer: And Steven Cuevas, he is, Mark Takano, not only openly gay, but Japanese-American. Is that, in some way, helping him in that race do you think?
Cuevas: That’s a little harder to say. You have a fair amount of Asian-Americans in this area but I think what has really resonated with Latino voters, actually, is his family story. The story of immigration, how his family came here, how his grandparents were interned during World War II, and what happened afterwards.
Shafer: And of course, the Inland Empire a very much a growing Latino population so those votes will be important to the winner, I’m sure. Let’s move now to the Inland Empire, towards Palm Springs, a well-known Republican Mary Bono Mack, the widow of Sonny Bono who died while in office several years ago. KQED Politics Editor Tyche Hendricks to talk about that race. Tyche, just how vulnerable is she?
Tyche Hendricks: Right, Mary Bono Mack is a seven-term incumbent. She has easily won reelection in the past. And her opponent this year, Raul Ruiz, has no electoral experience. He was considered a long-shot. But the race is really tightening. Ruiz who is a Harvard trained emergency room doctor, the son of Mexican farm workers has attracted a lot of support from Democrats nationally. They’ve been pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race. And over the course of the Fall the race has moved to really where it’s now a toss-up. And it’s Bono Mack’s to lose.
Shafer: So a case where a compelling biography might be helping Ruiz.
Hendricks: I think his biography resonates. A quarter of the voters in the district are Latinos. They tend to vote more Democratic. But also the district has been redrawn, as all districts have, and it’s less Republican. It still tilts Republican but less so.
Shafer: And let’s go to a race in Los Angeles, specifically the San Fernando Valley where you’ve got two incumbent titans, two Democrats, Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, and the battle of the “ermans” as they say. Lots of money being thrown around in that race. It’s been very tense personally between these two men, what are the dynamics there?
Hendricks: These guys were allies really in Congress, two established Democrats. More than $13 million spent there. One of the most costly races in the country. They’re not that different, it’s been a little hard to distinguish themselves. This is a case where the top-two primary has really given us a new dynamic in California politics. It’s something that we haven’t seen before. It’s going to be a difficult choice for voters but in the end they’re going to be assured of having a Democrat representing their district.