Live Blog Preview: For First Time in Memory, A Dozen California House Races in Play

Twenty-term incumbent Pete Stark has a well developed get-outo-the-vote operation, but his opponent, Eric Swalwell, is capitalizing on Stark's reported negative attributes. (Photo: Cy Musiker)

It's been a rough re-election season for longtime incumbent Pete Stark. (Cy Musiker: KQED)

At one time, Nancy Pelosi eagerly lay in wait to retake her House speakership this election cycle. But it doesn’t look like that is going to happen. The U.S. Congressional generic ballot shows Democrats and Republicans are neck and neck, but the GOP currently holds a 50-seat advantage. The Democrats would have to gain 25 seats to take control.

Complicating things this year in California: redistricting completed by a citizens commission instead of the Democratic-controlled legislature that used to gerrymander their own; and the new “Top Two” primary system — which sent the two candidates with the most votes in the primary to the November election regardless of party affiliation. These changes have put a dozen seats in play, a far greater number than usual.

Tuesday night, KQED will follow what are expected to be the closest House races in California. They are:

Dan Lungren (R) vs. Ami Bera (D): 7th Congressional District

A rematch in what’s considered to be one of the tightest races in the country. KQED’s Tara Siler has been following the race. She reports:

Democrats really see an opportunity here to pick off a conservative Republican, and an incumbent at that. It’s attracted a lot of money, and it’s one of the most expensive races in the country. And a lot of it is being thrown at Lungren by these outside groups.

So much has been thrown at Lungren, in fact, that Lungren is now ahead of his party in calling for campaign finance reform.

Pete Stark (D) vs. Eric Swalwell (D): 15th Congressional District

If ever someone was showing himself to be a rusty campaigner, it’s the 81-year-old Stark, who hasn’t been involved in a competitive election since long before he qualified for Social Security. But now he’s up against Dublin City Councilman Eric Swalwell, a 31-year-old whippersnapper and fellow Democrat who has not only profited from a series of erroneous accusations Stark has made against a host of individuals (see the fairly incredible videos here), but is also making use of new micro-targeting campaign technology. KQED’s Cy Musiker reports on Stark’s travails:

The newly drawn 15th district is a sprawl of suburban cities, stretching from Hayward to Pleasanton, to the south and east of Oakland. In a Democrat vs. Democrat race,” says Jack Pitney, who teaches political science at Claremont McKenna Colleges, “there’s a very reasonable chance [Stark] could end up out of Congress.” Pitney notes Stark has a number of strikes against him. First, more than half of this redrawn district is new to Stark. In addition, Pitney says Stark has squandered the power of incumbency — and the political clout that usually brings — by antagonizing Democrats and Republicans alike with nasty personal attacks. “He’s among the most despised members of Congress,” Pitney says. Stark’s Democratic colleagues even passed him over a few years ago when he was in line to become chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, “a stunning, stunning rebuke,” according to Pitney.

Nevertheless, as Carla Marinucci of the San Francisco Chronicle reports:

The veteran congressman has been endorsed by the entire Bay Area House delegation, President Obama and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Swalwell has picked up major Democratic endorsements of his own, from former East Bay Rep. Ellen Tauscher and former state Senate leader Don Perata, among others.

Jerry McNerney (D) vs. Ricky Gill (R): 9th Congressional District

Incumbent McNerney has been redistricted into a more conservative area, and the GOP is trying to swing some conservative-leaning Democrats to their side. Tara Siler reports:

Democratic incumbent Jerry McNerney is trying to hold off a challenge from 25-year-old GOP newcomer Ricky Gill, who is benefiting from a good deal of outside cash. “It has emerged as one of the more competitive races — not only in the state, but in the country — which is not something the Democrats had planned for,” Daniel Scarpinato with the National Republican Congressional Committee says.

Lois Capps (D) vs. Abel Maldonado (R): 24th Congressional District

KQED’s Scott Shafer reports:

For the past two decades California has been tough political terrain for Republicans, in part because the state’s growing Latino population overwhelmingly supports Democrats. On the Central Coast, Republican Congressional candidate Abel Maldonado is hoping his Mexican heritage will help bridge that divide by appealing to Latinos and independent voters. Maldonado, a former lieutenant governor, is the kind of candidate the Republican Party covets these days. “My father and mother came to this country with nothing,” Maldonado says. He’s the oldest son of migrant workers — Maldonado’s father came from Mexico in 1965 as a guest worker, eventually starting his own farm and growing it into a family business. Maldonado’s running against incumbent Democrat Lois Capps. The newly drawn seat is much more competitive than it was before redistricting. It would seem tailor-made for a moderate Republican businessman like Maldonado. But the “R” next to his name on the ballot could be a big liability, especially with Latinos, who make up nearly one in five voters in the district. “The Republican Party has not done a good job of communicating with the fastest growing population in America, which happens to be Hispanics,” Maldonado says. “You’re just committing political suicide. It’s just what it is.” If Maldonado ekes out a win, his candidacy could provide a roadmap back to relevance for the Republican Party in California.

The race has drawn much SuperPac money, including a bunch to Maldonado from Chevron.

Gary Miller (R) vs. Bob Dutton (R): 31st Congressional District

Scott Shafer talks to KPCC’s Steven Cuevas:

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.

John Tavaglione (R) vs. Mark Takano (D): 41st Congressional District

More from KQED’s Scott Shafer and KPCC’s Steven Cuevas:

Shafer: 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.

Mary Bono-Mack (R) vs. Raul Ruiz (D): 36th Congressional District

Scott Shafer talks to KQED Election Editor Tyche Hendricks:

Shafer: In the Inland Empire, toward Palm Springs, a well-known Republican Mary Bono Mack, the widow of Sonny Bono who died while in office several years ago. Just how vulnerable is she? Hendricks:Mary Bono Mack is a seven-term incumbent. She has easily won re-election 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.

Howard Berman (D) vs. Brad Sherman (D): 30th Congressional District

Scott Shafer and Tyche Hendricks…

Shafer: In Los Angeles, specifically the San Fernando Valley, 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.

John Garamendi (D) vs. Kim Vann (R): (3rd Congressional District)

From the Davis Enterprise:

Rising star Vann facing veteran Garamendi in new-look district On Tuesday, Davis voters will have a choice in the congressional race between a familiar face in Democrat John Garamendi and an up-and-coming politician, Republican Kim Vann, who promises a fresh approach. In the most expensive congressional race Davis has ever seen… Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, is a two-term incumbent in District 10. The 67-year-old has been in public office almost continually since 1974…Vann, 37, is now in her second term as a Colusa County supervisor…. If elected, she would be just the second Republican to represent Davis in the House since 1953 (the other was Doug Ose, whom Vann worked for as an aide).

Jose Hernandez (D) vs. Jeff Denham (R): 10th Congressional District

Denham is the incumbent, and the Dems are trying to knock him out with former astronaut Hernandez, in an area with many eligible Latino voters whom organizers have scrambled to register to vote. Republicans very much want to hold the seat. From the Modesto Bee:

Nearly $12 million is being spent to sway voters in the 10th Congressional District, but little of it came from local donors and even less of it is being spent here. The high-stakes race between Republican Rep. Jeff Denham and Democrat Jose Hernandez is being bankrolled almost entirely by out-of-region political groups and contributors… The newly formed district includes all of Stanislaus County, plus Escalon, Ripon, Manteca and Tracy. But the campaigns are being run almost exclusively by out-of-town political pros. Recently filed campaign finance disclosures reveal the overwhelming presence of outsider money and spending. Independent political action committees have dumped about $8.2 million into the race, almost all of it going toward advertising on Sacramento TV stations. Those PACs don’t have to reveal where their money comes from, but none of them are based in the 10th District. Full article