By Jim Ellis
March 22, 2016 — The California candidate filing deadline occurred at the end of last week, and several races in both the June primary and general election look interesting.
To review, California uses the top-two, jungle primary system, where all candidates appear together on the June 7 ballot, and then the first two finishers advance to the general election regardless of political party affiliation. It is likely that this system contributes to the large number of congressional candidates coming forth this year.
In the Senate race, while Democrats hope to qualify two of their own for the general election, namely Attorney General Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA-46), voters will have to find the pair through a mass of 32 other candidates in order for them to secure advancement. Six Democrats, 17 Republicans, and 11 Independents will be in the June Senate race. Attorney General Harris is favored to win the seat in November.
In the congressional races, only two of the 49 incumbents seeking re-election failed to draw an opponent. Representatives Jackie Speier (D-CA-14) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA-40) are the only unopposed members for both the primary and general elections.
Of the four open seats, one will likely send a pair of Democrats to the general election, one is a competitive general election campaign, and two appear to have early prohibitive favorites.
In the latter category, local deputy district attorney Jimmy Panetta (D), son of former congressman, CIA Director, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (D), is a lock to succeed retiring veteran Rep. Sam Farr (D-Carmel). In southern California, state Sen. Isadore Hall (D) is virtually assured of replacing Rep. Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro) who is running for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
The campaign to succeed Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Anaheim) features two former Democratic state senators, Lou Correa and Joe Dunn, as well as Garden Grove Mayor Bao Nguyen (D). Two of the three will qualify for the general election.
The most competitive November open race will occur in Santa Barbara as two strong Democrats and a pair of viable Republicans contest for the right to replace retiring Rep. Lois Capps (D). Democrats have Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal and Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider. Republicans feature state Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian and businessman Justin Fareed.
The top general election challenges again begins in Rep. Ami Bera’s (D-Sacramento) Sacramento County seat. Dr. Bera has won two close elections including unseating then-Rep. Dan Lungren (R). This year, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones will be the Republican challenger. In 2014, the incumbent’s race against former Rep. Doug Ose (R) became the most expensive House race in the United States. Combined, the candidates spent almost $10 million.
Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) will again likely face businessman Michael Eggman (D) in the general election. The congressman won a 56-44 percent re-election victory against him in 2014.
Rancher Johnny Tacherra (R) also returns to seek a re-match with Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno). The two battled to a 51-49 percent finish in 2014, but Costa will be a decided favorite under a presidential election year turnout model.
Rep. David Valadao (R-Bakersfield), who holds the most Democratic district to elect a Republican congressman in the nation, will likely face civil rights activist Emilio Huerta (D). His mother, Dolores Huerta, was a co-founder of the United Farm Workers Union with Cesar Chavez. Huerta has the opportunity of becoming the Democrats’ strongest challenger since Valadao was first elected in 2012.
Freshman Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands) will defend his seat against a Republican, either 2014 nominee Paul Chabot who scored 48 percent against Aguilar, or economist Sean Flynn. Former Rep. Joe Baca (D-Rialto) was a late entry into this race, this time as a Republican, but he is not expected to be a major factor.
Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Palm Desert) seeks a third term in his 36th District and has drawn what should be a major challenge from state Sen. Jeff Stone, a former Riverside County Supervisor and Temecula Mayor.
In San Diego’s marginal 52nd District, Rep. Scott Peters (D), who has won two close elections, finds six Republicans attempting to replace him. One of them will qualify for advancement to November in a race that may merit watching.
Fifteen incumbents have drawn June opposition from within their own parties, and five appear noteworthy.
The most serious incumbent challenge again comes from former Obama Administration official Ro Khanna against Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose). The two fought an expensive yearlong battle in 2014, with the congressman winning 52-48 percent. This year, Khanna appears even stronger and an upset here is possible.
In sophomore Rep. Paul Cook’s (R-Yucca Valley) Death Valley desert district, former state assemblyman and noted Tea Party activist Tim Donnelly (R) has entered this race. Because this seat covers expansive territory from San Bernardino County almost all the way through Yosemite National Park with no major population center, the area gets little in the way of media coverage. It’s always difficult to defeat an incumbent in a sprawling district comprised of many small towns.
Three Democrats are challenging two-term Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Pacoima) including former Los Angeles City Councilman and state legislator Richard Alarcon. With no Republican in the race, it is likely that Cardenas and Alarcon will battle each other for the remainder of the year.
In Los Angeles, Rep. Grace Napolitano will face Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D) in June and November.
Finally, freshman Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine) draws a viable Republican opponent in the person of Mission Viejo City Councilman Greg Raths.
All of the incumbents, with the exception of Honda, are heavy favorites, but some or all of these campaigns could become interesting as we move through the election cycle.