Category Archives: House

California’s Changing Congressional Makeup

In what became an expected announcement, particularly considering the developments during the past few days, 17-term Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA-41) confirmed that he will retire at the end of the current Congress. Mr. Lewis, a former Appropriations Committee chairman and the dean of the California Republican delegation, was first elected to the House in 1978 after serving 10 years in the state Assembly.

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission placed Lewis’ home in the new 31st District, a politically marginal seat anchored in the cities of San Bernardino, Rialto, and the congressman’s home of Redlands. But most of his Republican territory wound up in the new 8th District, a seat that begins in San Bernardino County, but which travels up the California-Nevada border all the way to Yosemite. When the map was passed, Mr. Lewis said he would not move his family to claim the 8th, but it also didn’t look like he would risk defeat by running in the 31st, which, more often than not, will elect a Democrat.

The other incumbent placed in CA-31 was Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA-43). Surveying the district after the lines were made public, Mr. Baca believed his political fortunes were better served by running in the new District 35, even though his home city of Rialto is excluded and having to face a popular Democratic state senator, Gloria Negrete McLeod, in an intra-party challenge that could consume a full year under California’s new election law.

Surprisingly, on the heels of the Lewis retirement statement, Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA-42), currently paired with fellow Republican Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA-40) in new District 39, said he will now run in the vacated 31st. Miller currently represents a small portion of San Bernardino County that is housed in the 31st, and he obviously believes his chances of surviving in a marginal Democratic seat are superior to fighting a Republican-on-Republican war with Mr. Royce. Thus, the big winner in this scenario is Rep. Royce, as he is now the only incumbent in the safely Republican CA-39. He still will have significant primary opposition, however, as Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson is an announced Republican candidate who could prove to be a formidable candidate.

The Miller move sends another signal, too. Because Rep. David Dreier (R-CA-26), whose current district was split six ways, also represents part of the new 31st it was thought that this could be a landing place for him should Mr. Lewis either run in the 8th or retire. With no further inkling from Mr. Dreier that he is looking at the 31st, the speculation that he too will retire certainly gains credence.

Should Dreier follow suit and leave the House, California Republicans will lose their top four senior members: Lewis, Dreier, Rep. Wally Herger (R-CA-2), and Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA-24). Their combined length of service is 118 years.

Now that the 31st is officially an open seat, expect action to occur soon. The top Democrat in the race so far is Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar. Aside from Rep. Miller, state Senate Minority Leader Bob Dutton and San Bernardino District Attorney Michael Ramos are both potential Republican contenders. Taking into consideration California’s new law that sends the top two finishers from the qualifying election onto the general regardless of political party affiliation, virtually anything can happen in this race.

Though CA-31 leans Democratic, it doesn’t do so by much. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D), for example, won here by just two points, 46-44 percent. The Republican attorney general candidate, though losing a close race statewide, carried the new 31st 46-39 percent. Gov. Jerry Brown scored a 49-41 percent win over GOP businesswoman Meg Whitman.

Expect this race to fluctuate between “toss-up” and “lean Democrat” all the way to the November election.

Calif. Rep. Gallegly to Retire

In a move many expected when the California redistricting map dealt him a cruel political blow, 13-term Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA-24) announced over the weekend that he will not seek re-election later this year, thus ending his quarter century tenure in Congress.

Mr. Gallegly had two choices after the California Citizens Redistricting Commission re-drew the Ventura County/Simi Valley (west Los Angeles County) area. He could run in the new 26th District, which comprises most of Ventura County, a place Gallegly has represented for most of his career, but which does not include his home and political power base of the Simi Valley region. While he would be in the incumbent in the new 26th, the district is politically marginal and the chances of a Democrat beating him in November are good. President Obama, who will of course lead the Democratic ticket again in 2012, scored 56 percent here in 2008.

Mr. Gallegly’s other option would have been to challenge fellow Republican Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA-25) in the new 25th CD. This district will likely elect a member of the GOP in November but, aside from including Simi Valley, the new 25th is comprised mostly of McKeon’s political base in Santa Clarita and Palmdale. Gallegly would have been at a decided disadvantage had he run against McKeon but, under California’s new primary election law, it is likely the race would have lasted a full year as both would likely have qualified for the general election because the top two primary finishers advance to the general election regardless of political party affiliation.

All of the aforementioned made retirement Mr. Gallegly’s best option. The 26th District is now officially listed as an open seat. The retiring congressman becomes the 27th House incumbent to announce that he or she won’t run for re-election, and the 13th to choose outright retirement. The others are seeking a different office. Adding the new seats created in reapportionment and redistricting to this list, 43 open seat races are already present.

Without Gallegly in the political picture, the new 25th District (McKeon) becomes a Likely Republican seat, while District 26 now goes to “lean Democrat.” The seat’s political complexion is highly marginal, however, and a strong Republican candidate could conceivably win with a break or two.

Bachmann Out of the House, Too?

Yesterday, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) ended her presidential quest after a poor showing in her native state of Iowa. Now, she must soon determine whether she will seek re-election to her House seat, a decision that is apparently not clear cut.

While campaigning for president these past many months, Rep. Bachmann’s attendance for House votes has been poor. In a body where almost all members participate in more than 90 percent of the recorded votes per session, the former presidential candidate’s absentee rate is well above 40 percent. Regardless of ideology, voting attendance tends to be a killer issue for incumbents in both parties.

The Minnesota representative also has to decide whether continuing to serve in Congress helps her achieve national political goals. Like former presidential or vice-presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin have found, having a regular media presence is a much better forum than representing a single political constituency.

Redistricting is another concern. Though Bachmann has won her seat three times, twice in the most difficult Republican years of 2006 and 2008, her district is marginal and potentially competitive in a general election. It’s a sure bet the Democrats will target her if the soon-to-be-released, court-drawn 2012 map keeps her in a vulnerable position.

The Minnesota Republican convention is scheduled for April 14, when party delegates will choose nominees for the various positions. Under Minnesota law, individuals can force an August primary if they are not victorious in the convention, but that rarely happens.

Expect Rep. Bachmann to take some time before deciding her next political move, but it would not be surprising to see her leave Congress when her current term expires.

Incumbents Match Up in NJ

Now that the New Jersey congressional map officially has been adopted, a new incumbent pairing has resulted. The state lost a seat in reapportionment, meaning that at least two of the state’s 13 congressmen would have to fight for just one seat.

Since the state’e bipartisan redistricting commission adopted the proposed Republican map, it appeared that Reps. Steve Rothman (D-NJ-9) and Scott Garrett (R-NJ-5) would square off in a new 5th District that contains about 79 percent of the territory from the latter’s current CD. Instead, Rothman announced that he will primary a fellow Democrat, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ-8), in the new 9th District.

The new NJ-9 is a solid Democratic district and actually contains approximately 54 percent of the territory from Rothman’s current district as compared to just 43 percent from Pascrell’s seat. Rothman’s home of Fair Lawn is in the 5th CD, however, but the town in which he administered as Mayor prior to being elected to Congress in 1996, Englewood, is in the new 9th. Mr. Pascrell’s home of Paterson is also in the latest version of the 9th District.

Thus, Rothman now forces a major intra-party pairing battle that will be settled in the June primary. Though at first glance it appears that Mr. Rothman is the odd man out in this map scenario, it is actually Rep. Pascrell who may find himself on the outside looking in once the 9th District Democratic congressional nomination finally is decided. According to the latest available Federal Election Commission disclosure reports (Sept. 30), Rothman has $1.745 million cash-on-hand as compared to Pascrell’s $1.434 million. So, both men begin what promises to be a difficult race in strong financial position but Rothman appears to have the better overall political posture as the campaign begins.

Updates From Texas, West Virginia

Texas Senate: Sanchez Drops Bid

While former NFL football player Craig James (R) appears to be headed into the Texas Senate race, another candidate is departing. Retired Gen. Ricardo Sanchez (D) who officially launched his Senatorial campaign back in May, now says he will not run.

Sanchez experienced a difficult time launching his campaign from a fundraising perspective and in attempting to kick his effort into high gear. After recently sustaining huge personal losses due to a fire that cost him his personal residence, the retired military officer said it was simply not the right time for him to enter elective politics, particularly for a long shot statewide attempt.

Republicans are strong favorites to hold the open seat. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) is retiring.

WV-1: Oliverio Out

Former state Sen. Mike Oliverio (D), who lost one of the closest elections (49.6-50.4 percent) of the 2010 election cycle to freshman Rep. David McKinley (R), has withdrawn from the 2012 contest. In May of 2010, Oliverio upset 14-term Rep. Alan Mollohan in the Democratic primary largely because of the incumbent’s vote in favor of the Cap & Trade legislation, an issue that is wholly unpopular in northern West Virginia coal country. In September, Mr. Oliverio announced that he would seek a re-match with Rep. McKinley.

Oliverio gave no reason for changing his mind, only saying that he would be an “active citizen” instead of a candidate for public office. In the three months of his latest campaign effort, he had only raised $11,000 and still carries a debt of $27,000 from the 2010 race.

Remaining in the race is Democratic activist Susan Thorn. WV-1 changed little in redistricting. The McKinley-Oliverio re-match was considered a toss-up, but the congressman will certainly be favored if Thorn becomes the eventual Democratic nominee.