10 California U.S. House races ranked ‘most competitive’ in country

July 18, 2012

By John Hrabe

National Journal’s The Hotline released its first list of the most competitive U.S. House of Representatives races for the 2012 cycle. These are the 75 seats that National Journal considers “most likely to change hands in November.”

Interesting observations about the rankings:

* California, the state with the largest congressional delegation, had 10 districts make the list, the most of any state.

* New York’s nine races to make the list received a more competitive score. If the states are ranked on a scale of the races, from one to 75, New York races averaged 40.44, compared to 52.2 for the Golden State.

* Three California races are listed in the Top 30: the re-election campaigns of Republican Congressmen Dan Lungren and Brian Bilbray as well as current Republican State Sen. Tony Strickland’s campaign against Democratic Assemblywoman Julia Brownley for the open Ventura County seat in the U.S. House.

The Hotline’s rankings differ slightly from The Nooner’s “12 Most Interesting Congressional Races,” published by Scott Lay at AroundtheCapitol.com. The Nooner’s list included intra-party feuds, whereas National Journal ranked seats most likely to change party hands.

Rankings don’t really mean much to voters. However, they can influence the party congressional committees and PACs, especially as they decide where to allocate national resources. Based on both rankings, expect Bilbray, Strickland and Lungren to be first in line for major national funding.

The races that made Hotline but not the Nooner are: the 3rd race between Democratic incumbent John Garamendi and Republican Colusa County Supervisor Kim Vann; the 36th race between Republican incumbent Mary Bono Mack and Democrat Raul Ruiz; and the open 47th race between Republican Gary DeLong and Democratic State Senator Alan Lowenthal.

Here’s how National Journal summarized these races.

* CD-3 is a Democratic district held by Democratic Rep. John Garamendi. Almost three-fourths of the district is new to him, but Garamendi’s 52 percent showing in the June all-party primary was a good sign. In previous years with that system, Democrats almost always improved on their primary percentages in November.

* CD-36 is a Republican district held by Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack. Her diverse inland seat has long captured Democratic imaginations, and she only got 52 percent of the vote in 2010. This year, she’ll have to battle presidential-year Hispanic turnout marshaled by Democrat Raul Ruiz, but the seat got slightly more Republican.

* CD-47 is a new Democratic district. Republicans like Gary DeLong, but presidential year turnout in Long Beach makes victory a tricky proposition, though he has a better opportunity than if the seat were filled by an incumbent Democrat.

Other races

The races on the Nooner’s list that didn’t make National Journal’s radar:

CD21: a Republican leaning Kings County seat, featuring Democrat John Hernandez vs. Republican David Valadao.

And California’s four intra-party feuds. Because of the new Top Two system, the November runoff features two rivals from the same party:

CD-8  is a Republican seat in San Bernardino County, pitting two Republicans against one another: Paul Cook vs. Gregg Imus.
CD-35 is a Democratic seat in Ontario, setting two Democrats against one another: Joe Baca vs. Gloria Negrete McLeod.
CD-31 is a Republican seat in San Bernardino County featuring two Republicans, Bob Dutton vs. Gary Miller.
CD-30 is a Democratic seat in San Fernando Valley with the Democratic rivals being Howard Berman vs. Brad Sherman.

While the intra-party feuds won’t affect which party controls the House in January, they could affect the partisan makeup of California’s state legislature.  CalWatchDog.com first reported on how the outcome of the 35th congressional race could determine whether Democrats gain two-thirds control of the state Senate. As an even-numbered state senator, Negrete-McLeod would need to resign her senate seat in order to be sworn in as a member of Congress, thereby leaving her senate seat vacant until filled by a special election.

State Sen. Juan Vargas, another even-numbered Democratic congressional candidate, is almost guaranteed to win this November. His victory would create at least one state Senate vacancy.

In the state Legislature, tax increases are subject to a two-thirds vote requirement, a threshold unaffected by vacancies.

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