California incumbents seek new districts to call home

at 02:11 PM ET, 08/11/2011


Janice Hahn (Reed Saxon - AP Photo)
The California Citizens Redistricting Commission is expected to sign off on its final draft redistricting maps next week.

In the meantime, members of the state’s congressional delegation – most of whom were drawn into districts with other incumbents – are frantically searching for new places to call home.

For most of them, the choice was pretty clear. For others … well, things are more complicated.

The last two weeks have been a blur of positioning for these new seats, and given that California contains more than one in every ten U.S. House seats, we thought it was a good idea to keep you updated.

Knowing what we know so far (and noting that things could pretty easily change) here are a few highlights…

Republican opportunities

The GOP, which looked like it got the short end of the stick initially, may have a few chances to even things out. Most observers think the GOP got drawn out of about three districts under the new map, but there may be three or four chances to retsake those districts.

In the Santa Barbara-based 24th district, former lieutenant governor Abel Maldonado (R), if he can survive his primary, is already looking like a strong candidate against Rep. Lois Capps (D) in her new swing district.

In the Riverside-based 41st, Democrats have the demographic edge, but it could still be the GOP’s best chance at picking up a House seat, said Scott Lay, an education lobbyist who has been tracking the districts. “There’s not a good Democratic bench there, nor is there a good Democratic campaign apparatus.” As of now, former congressional candidate Mark Takano (D) and Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione (R) are being mentioned.

In the Democratic-leaning 31st district, there is talk that Rep. Joe Baca (D) may run in a safer nearby district (the 35th), which would open things up for a strong Republican – potentially Rep. David Dreier (R).

And as of Tuesday, the GOP’s prospects were brightening in the Kings County-based 21st district. That’s because Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D) is making noises about retiring.

Cardona’s fate is the biggest question right now. Three incumbents – Cardoza, Rep. Jim Costa (D), and Rep. Jeff Denham (R) – are all drawn into the Merced County-based 16th district. That district is safely Democratic, while two nearby ones – the swing 21st in Kings County and the Republican-leaning 10th in Stanislaus County, are open.

Costa and Denham were supposed to run in the 21st and 10th districts, respectively, but Cardoza’s retirement would mean Costa can run in the safer 16th. And without an incumbent running, Republicans would have a better chance at winning the swing 21st. For now, the likely candidates in that district are state Assemblyman David Valadao (R), state Sen. Michael Rubio (D) and former state senator Dean Florez (D).

If Republicans can make two or three of these seats genuinely competitive in the 2012 election, they stand a good chance at offsetting their losses elsewhere.

Incumbent matchups

Two races pitting incumbent-versus-incumbent seem to be good bets right now. One will be the Fullerton-based 39th district, where GOP Reps. Ed Royce and Gary Miller are both currently contained and don’t have an alternative. The other is in the 30th district in the San Fernando Valley, where Democratic Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman are already girding to face each other.

There had been talk of Berman running in the other San Fernando Valley seat, the 29th, and Sherman potentially running in the Ventura County-based 26th, but that appears unlikely – barring a serious intervention by Democratic leaders.

Royce and Miller, meanwhile, have basically no alternatives, unless one of them retires.

Another potential incumbent matchup is in the Carson-based 44th district, where Democratic Reps. Janice Hahn and Laura Richardson could face off. But neither is well-positioned after redistricting, and state Assemblyman Isadore Hall (D) could beat both of them. (The African-American Richardson is drawn into the Long Beach-based 47th district but is more likely to seek the 44th, which is 28 percent black.)

And, on Thursday, news broke that Rep. Dan Lungren (R) may leave the competitive 7th district to run in the safer 4th. That would pit him in a primary against Rep. Tom McClintock (R) and leave the 7th very vulnerable to Democratic takeover.

Few options, none of them good

A few members of Congress have genuine dilemmas on their hands.

Dreier, Hahn and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D) got perhaps the worst draws in the state.

Dreier was drawn into the heavily Democratic 32nd district, and his only options appear to be running in the competitive but Democratic-leaning districts. He could run in the 31st, potentially against Baca, or in the 26th if Rep. Elton Gallegly (R) doesn’t seek the seat. Either way, though, Dreier is probably an underdog.

Sanchez, meanwhile, also has several bad options. She is drawn into the 38th district with Rep. Grace Napolitano (D), but it’s more likely she’ll seek another nearby district. The problem is, running in the 40th district would pit her against Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D), and the other option – the Long Beach-based 47th – is not a Hispanic district and would likely make her an underdog against state Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D).

The only other option would be the 32nd district, but her cousin, El Monte Councilwoman Norma Macias (D), is likely to run there.

And Hahn, who was just elected in a special election that was needlessly competitive (as far as Democrats are concerned), is a white candidate in a heavily minority district and doesn’t have a great alternative.

Some others to keep an eye on:

* Napolitano, who faces a real primary with state Sen. Ron Calderon (D).

* Gallegly, who nearly called it quits a few years ago and would have to win a Democratic-leaning seat. He’s considered a retirement possibility

* Whicever seat Baca runs for, his son Joe Baca Jr., a former state assemblyman, could very well run for the other one.

* Rep. Jerry Lewis (R) is in the 31st district with Baca, but if Lewis runs, he will almost surely seek the safer 8th district, which includes much of his current territory.

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