The California Challenge

By Jim Ellis

July 27, 2017 — In looking at the Democrats’ US House prospects for next year, it appears their road to a prospective majority must travel through the Golden State of California. In a delegation of 39 Democrats and just 14 Republicans, it is the few GOP seats here that will be drawing an inordinate amount of attention from national party strategists.

The Dems must heavily target California because, with few open seats and their party forced to protect about half the small number of toss-up races, they must find a way to expand the target base if they are to seriously compete. The California campaigns, particularly when referencing Hillary Clinton’s strong presidential performance, become a natural political playing ground. But, as we saw during the House special elections earlier this year, often times the presidential margin, particularly as it relates to President Trump both in a positive and negative sense, and how individuals vote at the congressional level may not always yield the results one might expect.

That being said, seven Golden State Republican incumbents will become major conversion targets next year and, based upon the just-released second quarter financial disclosure reports, these GOP members are more than ready.

The seven, in geographic order from north to south, are: Reps. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock/Modesto), David Valadao (R-Bakersfield), Steve Knight (R-Palmdale/Simi Valley), Ed Royce (R-Fullerton; Orange County), Mimi Walters (R-Irvine; Orange County), Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa; Orange County), and Darrell Issa (R-Vista; Orange and San Diego Counties).

Looking at the latest financials, three, led by House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Royce, already top $1 million cash-on-hand. In fact, Royce even broke the $3 million barrier for his campaign account. He is already facing four announced Democratic challengers and an Independent. One of them, assuming no others join, will advance from the jungle primary to secure a berth in the general election.

The others holding more than $1 million are Reps. Walters ($1.11 million) and Denham ($1.04 million). At this point, seven Democrats and one Independent are announced candidates against Denham, while Rep. Walters has already drawn seven Democrats. Rep. Issa has $672,000 in the bank, but this is less of an issue for him. The congressman is independently wealthy and can personally fund the needed amount to win.

Rep. Valadao has raised well over $700,000 for his 2018 effort and possesses $566,000 in his campaign account. Coming from Bakersfield and the rural areas surrounding the city, campaigns here are a bit cheaper so overall spending will likely be lesser for this race. Emilio Huerta, who lost to Valadao, 57-43 percent in November, returns for another try.

Rep. Rohrabacher, now in his 15th term, is the dean of the California GOP contingent. He was re-elected with 58 percent in November, and has drawn seven Democrats, two Republicans, and one Libertarian as announced opponents. Rohrabacher has less in the bank than his aforementioned colleagues, however, coming in at $472,000. Rep. Knight also lags a bit, now holding $433,000. He has five Democratic opponents, including attorney Bryan Caforio who held the congressman to a 53-47 percent re-election victory in 2016.

Interestingly, not one of the 34 announced Democratic candidates in these seven congressional races have ever been elected to public office. It remains to be seen who is intense enough to advance in each of these situations, all jungle primary qualifying campaigns that will drift far to the left on the ideological spectrum.

In each of the highlighted seven districts, Clinton defeated President Trump giving the Democrats many prospective voters to target. The strongest of her performances comes in Valadao’s 21st District, where the Democratic presidential spread was 55-40 percent. The weakest of the group, from the challenger perspective: Rep. Denham’s 10th CD, 48-46 percent.

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