California's most competitive congressional races

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Associated Press

Posted on May 3, 2014 at 11:02 AM

Updated Saturday, May 3 at 3:05 PM

A look at the most competitive California House races in this year's midterm elections, based on demographics, fundraising reports and interviews with political analysts and Republican and Democratic strategists.

MOST COMPETITIVE

21st Congressional District (Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties):

Republican Rep. David Valadao has two Democratic challengers, Amanda Renteria and John Hernandez.

Valadao, a freshman, represents what should be a Democratic stronghold. About 46 percent of the district's voters are registered Democrats, versus 32 percent Republican. President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein won the district by double-digit percentage points in 2012, but Valadao breezed to victory against Hernandez, who struggled to raise money and organize a campaign.

Renteria worked on Capitol Hill as an aide to Feinstein and then as chief of staff to Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. She grew up in the Central Valley, the daughter of a Mexican immigrant farmworker, and went on to play basketball and softball at Stanford University. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is supporting her candidacy.

Valadao grew up on a dairy farm in the center of the district. He led the GOP's efforts on legislation that would divert more water to farms in the Central Valley and signed onto a Democratic-led bill seeking an immigration overhaul. About 70 percent of the district's voters are Hispanic.

Valadao and Renteria had similar fundraising efforts for the first quarter of 2014: Valadao raised about $322,000 while Renteria raised about $303,000. Valadao had a much larger advantage last time.

52nd Congressional District (San Diego):

Democratic Rep. Scott Peters has three Republican challengers, Carl DeMaio, Kirk Jorgensen and Fred Simon.

Peters is a freshman lawmaker serving a congressional district in which Republicans have a nearly 6,000-vote edge among registered voters. That alone makes this district an automatic target for national Republicans seeking to keep control of the House.

Peters served on the San Diego City Council for eight years and worked as an environmental lawyer before that. He was helped two years ago by President Barack Obama's 6-percentage point victory in the district but will not have Obama on the ticket to boost turnout this time.

DeMaio is a former member of the San Diego City Council who focused his efforts on reining in pension costs. If elected, he would be the House's first openly gay Republican.

Jorgensen is a former Marine. Simon is a surgeon who so far has loaned his campaign about $1.3 million.

San Diego can expect a deluge of television and radio ads, mailers and telephone calls in the months ahead. The 2012 race attracted millions of dollars in outside money, and the conservative advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, already has begun airing commercials highly critical of Obama's health care reforms in an attempt to link Peters to the law.

COMPETITIVE

7th Congressional District (suburbs to the south and east of Sacramento):

Democratic Rep. Ami Bera has three Republican challengers in what could be the state's most interesting primary election because of the depth and backgrounds of the Republican roster, which features, Igor Birman, Elizabeth Emken and Doug Ose.

The Republicans' national campaign committee lists all three in its recruiting program that identifies competitive campaigns.

Birman was born in the Soviet Union and came to the United States as a refugee in 1994. He served as chief of staff to Rep. Tom McClintock before taking a leave of absence to run for Congress. He is getting support from tea party groups such as FreedomWorks for America and the Tea Party Patriots.

Ose served three terms in Congress before leaving to honor a term-limits pledge. He supported the Bush tax cuts and the educational overhaul referred to as No Child Left Behind. He is a moderate on social issues such as abortion and gun control. An organization called Gun Owners of America has spent about $16,000 on mail opposing Ose. To firm up his appeal to conservatives, he signed a pledge not to raise income tax rates.

Emken failed to survive the Republican primary in 2010 in a different congressional district. She also was the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate against incumbent Dianne Feinstein in 2012 but lost overwhelmingly. She could benefit if voters get turned off by the rhetoric between Birman and Ose.

Bera is a freshman who won his second try for Congress with 52 percent of the vote. The district is one of the most closely divided in the state with registered Democratic voters exceeding registered Republican voters by about 2 percentage points.

31st Congressional District (San Bernardino County):

Republican Rep. Gary Miller opted not to seek re-election. Fortune shined on Miller in the 2012 election cycle: So many Democrats ran for the newly redrawn seat that none of them finished in the top two during the primary, leaving Miller and another GOP candidate to fight it out in the general election. Miller, serving a district where Democrats enjoy a 21,000-plus voter registration edge over Republicans, declined to seek a ninth term.

Four Democratic candidates and three Republicans are running for the open seat.

Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar will run again. He has received support from the party's national campaign committee with its chairman, Steve Israel, attending a Washington fundraiser on his behalf. The state Democratic Party also endorsed him.

Former Rep. Joe Baca also is vying for the seat after serving six full terms in the House and part of another before he lost to Gloria Negrete McLeod in the 2012 general election in another district. Earlier this year, Baca called Negrete McLeod a bimbo when she announced she would not seek re-election after serving just one term. He subsequently apologized. To offset the damage, his campaign website details a list of women he has supported over the years.

Aguilar raised $262,000 in the latest quarter and has $683,000 in the bank. Baca raised $33,000 and has $28,622 in the bank.

Eloise Gomez Reyes, a lawyer from San Bernardino, and Danny Tillman, a school board member in San Bernardino, round out the Democratic field. Reyes has backing from Emily's List, which supports female candidates who are pro-abortion rights. She raised $201,000 in the latest quarter and has $534,824 in the bank, making her a serious contender.

The top two Republicans challengers are Paul Chabot, an Iraq War veteran who runs a national security consulting firm, and Leslie Gooch, a longtime aide to Miller.

26th Congressional District (Ventura County):

Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley is a freshman lawmaker serving a mostly Ventura County district in which Democrats enjoy a 6 percentage point edge among registered voters. Republicans think they have a formidable challenger in state Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, a former prosecutor and current member of the U.S. Navy Reserve who served two yearlong stints in Afghanistan. He has applauded congressional efforts to undertake immigration reform, calling on the House to follow the Senate's example in approving a bill. Rafael Alberto Dagnesses, a former member of the Los Angeles Police Department who now oversees a real estate firm, also is running as a Republican.

36th Congressional District (Riverside County, mostly Coachella Valley):

Rep. Raul Ruiz is another Democratic freshman who faces a difficult re-election. Registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats by about 5,000 in the district. President Barack Obama won it by about 3 percentage points in his two elections, but he's not on the ticket this time to help turn out Democratic voters. Ruiz, the son of migrant farmworkers, was an emergency room doctor until winning election to Congress. He faces two Republican challengers — state Assemblyman Brian Nestande and former lawmaker Ray Haynes. Nestande is getting support from Republican members of the state's congressional delegation and from Republicans in Washington. He once served as the chief of staff for Sonny Bono and then for his wife, Mary Bono. Haynes got into the race late, waiting until March to enter. He served in the Legislature from 1993 until 2007, representing western portions of the congressional district. Ruiz has $1.5 million in cash on hand, far more than either of the GOP challengers. That's an advantage, but it could be diminished if outside groups jump into the race, which is likely.

POTENTIALLY COMPETITIVE:

10th Congressional District (Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties):

Jeff Denham won election to his second term with 53 percent of the vote in one of the state's most evenly divided congressional districts. Republicans hold a 1.6 percentage point edge over Democrats among registered voters. Denham was the first Republican lawmaker to sign onto an immigration overhaul that provides a path to citizenship and has led the efforts in Congress to stop any new federal money from going to the California High Speed Rail project. His primary Democratic challenger is Michael Eggman, an almond and honey farmer, who raised about $600,000 last quarter.

25th Congressional District (northern Los Angeles County and Simi Valley):

Rep. Buck McKeon's retirement helped make this district competitive. Republicans enjoy a 2.5 percentage point edge among registered voters. Four Republicans are running, including state Sen. Steve Knight and former state Sen. Tony Strickland, who received McKeon's endorsement to succeed him. On the Democratic side, Dr. Lee Rogers, a podiatrist, is running again after gaining 45 percent of the vote in his losing 2012 bid against McKeon. Evan Thomas, who served 28 years in the Air Force, also is running as a Democrat.

3rd Congressional District (eight counties north and west of Sacramento):

Democratic Rep. John Garamendi won a third term with 54 percent of the vote in 2012. National Republicans are backing state Assemblyman Dan Logue. If things go badly for Democrats in the midterms, the district could be in play.

24th Congressional District (Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties):

Democratic Rep. Lois Capps won a ninth term with 55 percent of the vote in 2012, but she will not have Obama to help drive turnout this year in a congressional district where Democrats hold a 3.6 percentage point advantage.

TOP INTRAPARTY RACES:

4th Congressional District (primarily Placer and El Dorado counties):

Rep. Tom McClintock, a Republican serving his third term, faces a challenge from Art Moore, an Iraq war veteran who serves as a major in the Army National Guard. Nationwide, most Republican incumbents facing a candidate from their own party attract challengers who appeal to tea party conservatives. Moore's challenge is unique because he is trying to appeal to moderate Republicans and independents who might be disgruntled with McClintock, who preferred continuing a government shutdown to raising the nation's debt ceiling. Financially, Moore will have a hard time making the race competitive. He raised about $31,500 in the last quarter, versus nearly $790,000 by McClintock.

17th Congressional District (Santa Clara County and part of Alameda County):

Rep. Mike Honda, the seven-term Democratic representative of a district in the heart of Silicon Valley, has coasted to victory in the past. This year he faces a challenge from a fellow Democrat. Ro Khanna, a former Commerce Department appointee of Obama who now works at a law firm representing high tech companies, stunned political observers when he reported raising $2 million in 2013. That gives him a war chest that's nearly double what Honda has in the bank. Dr. Vanila Singh, an anesthetist at Stanford School of Medicine, is the lead Republican candidate who hopes to make it through the June primary.

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