California: A 2010 Congressional Battleground?

Much of the recent work at the Rose Institute has focused on California redistricting in 2011 and how it may significantly change—even eliminate—certain districts, thereby forcing out several term incumbents in 2012.  However, it is also important to consider which incumbents may not make it to 2012 because they lose in 2010.  Several seats could potentially be in play in California in 2010; this post will examine these potentially competitive races by assessing the current financial health of each campaign (both incumbents and their challengers).

The post will look at eight potential 2010 battleground districts.  While none are yet clear takeover opportunities for either party, some of them could develop into very competitive races. The races were deemed potentially competitive based on three factors. (1) the race was competitive in 2008, (2) the incumbent won the last election by a narrow margin, or (3) either the Democrats or Republicans have targeted the race.  A race is deemed to be targeted if a candidate has been identified as part of (a) the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC)’s Frontline Program (vulnerable Democratic incumbents), (b) the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC)’s Patriot Program (vulnerable Republican incumbents), or (c) the NRCC’s Young Guns Program (exciting Republican challengers).

Before looking at individual races, it is important to consider briefly the overall environment in California going into 2010.  In 2008, Barack Obama did very well in California, even in traditionally Republican districts.  Having Obama at the top of the ticket clearly helped Democrats further down the ballot and made some Republican incumbents do worse than they otherwise would have done.  In 2010, Obama will not be at the top of the ballot.  Instead, it will feature the Governor’s race and the U.S. Senate race.  With Gavin Newsom dropping out of the race last week, 71 year old Jerry Brown will likely be the Democrat’s gubernatorial nominee, and incumbent Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer will be the nominee for Senate.  While both Brown and Boxer may run strong campaigns, neither one will create the excitement that Obama created in 2008 that helped Democrat congressional candidates down the ballot.  Republican incumbents who had close elections in 2008 because of Obama will likely face a more favorable climate in 2010.

CA-03 Dan Lungren (R)

Eight term incumbent Dan Lungren won in 2008 by 5%, but Obama carried his district in the presidential election.  After the 2008 elections, Lungren challenged John Boehner for Minority Leader, but he did not gain significant traction.  Lungren has been placed on the NRCC’s Patriot Program signaling that he may be targeted in 2010.  He raised $192,700 in the third quarter and spent around 39% of it ($74,700) which netted him $118,000 for the quarter.  He has $443,700 cash on hand.  Lungren clearly realizes that he needs to raise money as his financial documents reveal tens of thousands spent on fundraising consultants.  However, one of his challengers, physician Ameriash Bera, raised an impressive $335,400 in the third quarter while only spending $36,700 which netted him $298,700 for the quarter.  He has $585,700 cash on hand.  Lungren’s other challenger, businessman Bill Slaton, raised only $78,400 and burned through all of it and more ($79,300) yet still has $398,500 cash on hand—he made a $175,000 self-loan to the campaign.  Lungren has comparatively limited cash on hand, and he will need to raise significantly more in the next few quarters as he faces two candidates with money close to or exceeding his (especially if Slaton continues to use his own money).  However, if Bera and Slaton have an extremely competitive primary battle requiring them to use most of their money against each other, it would certainly benefit Lungren.

CA-04 Tom McClintock (R)

Tom McClintock just barely beat his 2008 opponent Air Force Lt. Col. Charlie Brown by less than 2,000 votes (after a recount).  Yet, McCain beat Obama in the district by close to ten points.  McClintock is not a member of the NRCC’s Patriot Program, and there have yet to be signals that Democrats will target him heavily in 2010.  His close 2008 election could potentially make him an attractive target at some point, especially considering his low fundraising numbers.  McClintock raised only $200,000 in the third quarter and spent $221,200, meaning he raised a net of $-21,200 for the third quarter.  He only has $228,100 cash on hand.  McClintock has a very robust campaign; he is spending on fundraising, ads, staff salaries, polling, and webdesign.  His greatest advantage currently is that he does not have a strong opponent.  His former opponent, Charlie Brown only raised $20 last quarter and only has $985 cash on hand suggesting he will not run again.  Yet Brown has updated his website since last November, so perhaps he still has some thoughts about running again.  McClintock would strengthen his position and discourage potential challengers if he had a strong fourth quarter.

CA-11 Jerry McNerney (D)

Republicans really want this seat back.  Jerry McNerney won the seat from Richard Pombo in 2006 after Pombo had several problems including ties to Jack Abramhoff.  Republicans thought they had a good chance at the seat in 2008 because Bush had won it in 2004, but Republican nominee Dean Andal lost by 10% when Obama carried the district.  The DCCC realizes that McNerney will likely be a target again in 2010 as he was placed on the Frontline Program.  McNerney only raised $247,700 in the third quarter while spending $90,600, meaning he netted $157,100 for the third quarter.  He ended the quarter with $675,800 cash on hand.  Currently McNerney is lucky as Republicans have yet to unite around one candidate (there are more than five candidates currently).  Brad Goehring touts some local endorsements on his website, and he has $423,100 cash on hand.  However, $400,000 of that is a self-loan, and he only raised $68,500 last quarter.  Two more Republicans have entered the race in the last week.  If a strong candidate can emerge from this field, Republicans have a chance to flip the seat, but they will need to avoid a competitive primary.

CA-26 David Dreier (R)

As the Ranking Member on the Rules Committee, David Dreier is one of the most important Republicans in the House.  He won in 2008 over businessman Russ Warner by over 10%; however, Obama won his district and the DCCC did view his seat as a target in 2008.  Dreier only raised $87,100 in the third quarter, but he has $940,600 cash on hand.   Warner, his 2008 opponent, has announced he will run again but only raised $40,500 in the third quarter leaving him with $95,200 cash on hand.  Unless Warner picks up his fundraising (or someone else enters the race) Dreier is likely safe.

CA-44 Ken Calvert (R)

Ken Calvert was viewed as safe in 2008 (Bush had won by a significant margin in 2004 and Calvert had won comfortably before), but he only won by 2% (Obama won the District) against public school teacher Bill Hedrick who barely raised any money in 2008.  The NRCC has placed Calvert on the Patriot Program to prevent that result from happening again.  Calvert raised $226,700 in the third quarter and has $511,300 cash on hand.  Hedrick only raised $43,700 and burned through around 80% of it ($34,900) leaving him with $74,400 cash on hand.  Hedrick’s unimpressive sum would suggest that Calvert is safe, but Hedrick proved in 2008 that he can do well without money.  Additionally, several newspapers have recently claimed that Calvert is involved with an FBI investigation.  However, if Calvert capitalizes off Hedrick’s inability to raise money and uses his money to discredit Hedrick early in the cycle (unlike being surprised by him in 2008), Calvert will likely run a strong campaign.

CA-45 Mary Bono Mack (R)

Mary Bono Mack won in 2008 by 16%, but Obama won her District (Bush had won it decisively in 2004) which landed her a credible challenger in Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet.  Bono Mack can make a credible argument that she is bipartisan because she was one of the only House Republicans to vote for the Cap and Trade bill this summer.  Yet, the NRCC has placed her in the Patriot Program because she will likely face a strong challenge from Pougnet.  Bono Mack raised $343,300 in the third quarter which gives her $716,000 cash on hand.  Pougnet raised $200,800 and has $347,200 cash on hand.  Bono Mack should have a strong campaign, but if Pougnet can come close to her fundraising numbers (or outraise her) he will make it a close race.

CA-47 Loretta Sanchez (D)

Loretta Sanchez won in 2008 with close to 70% of the vote, and Obama decisively won her District.  However, at least initially, the NRCC was very excited about Assemblyman Van Tran’s campaign because the NRCC thought he could be the ideal candidate for the District, so he was placed in the Young Guns Program.  Sanchez only raised $134,800 in the third quarter but has $769,000 cash on hand.  Tran only raised $85,900 and has $282,500 cash on hand.  The NRCC recently released its latest list for the Young Guns Program and did not move Tran up to the next level of “Contender.”  Tran may be an exciting candidate, but he will need to have stronger fundraising quarters if he is going to compete with Sanchez.

CA-50 Brian Bilbray (R)

Brian Bilbray won in 2008 by 5%, but Obama won his District, and he already has several Democratic opponents.  He has been put in the NRCC’s Patriot Program.  Bilbray raised $113,400 in the third quarter but burned through about 65% of it ($74,400) leaving him with $434,700 cash on hand.  He spent significant money on fundraising and consultants during the quarter.  His 2006 opponent Francine Busby raised $62,600 and spent $58,000 which left her with $144,800 cash on hand.  Attorney Tracy Emblem only raised $30,000 and spent $27,600 of it leaving her with only $24,600 cash on hand.  Solana Beach Councilman and Mayor Dave Roberts, probably the strongest challenger, raised more than Bilbray ($153,300) and has $122,900 cash on hand.  If Roberts continues to outraise Bilbray, he could be a very strong challenger.  However, if either the Busby or Emblem fundraising picks up, there could be a competitive primary which would help Bilbray.

*Financial data comes from each campaign’s third quarter Federal Election Commission online filing.  For simplicity, the numbers were rounded down to the nearest hundred.  The electoral data on each District in 2008 and 2004 comes from The National Journal’s 2010 The Almanac of American Politics.

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