By Jon Fleischman
Nationally, Republicans had an outstanding election earlier this month. Besides the huge gains in the U.S. Senate, House Republicans made modest gains (12 seats), bringing their majority to an impressive 244 of 435 members. That said, one cannot help but note that House Republicans could have had an even better night but for being completely routed by Democrats in California. Here is a snapshot of nine separate House races, all likely won by Democrats, that could have gone Republican.
CA-3 – Incumbent Democrat John Garamendi, former Lt. Governor of California, beat back a strong challenge from termed-out conservative Assemblyman Dan Logue in this district north and west of Sacramento. With the National Rebublican Congressional Committee (NRCC) asleep at the switch, Logue never was targeted in his race, and fell about 7,500 votes shy of topping Garamendi, losing with 47.5% of the vote.
CA-7- Incumbent Democrat Ami Bera, who narrowly defeated GOPer Dan Lungren two years ago, appears to have been narrowly re-elected over former Congressman Doug Ose, a very squishy Republican in this Sacramento County-centered district. Ose won a heavily contested primary and was targeted by the NRCC, but Dems spent big and a peek at the GOP undervote would seem to indicate that Ose was not able to successfully rally all GOP voters in the general election. As of Friday, Ose was trailing Bera by less than a thousand votes, with 49.8% of the total vote. There are votes left to count here, but it is unlikely Ose turns this around.
CA-9 – Former U.S. Marshall Tony Amador gave incumbent Democrat Jerry McNerney a run for his money in this northwestern Central Valley seat, garnering 47.9% of the vote and coming up less than 5,000 votes shy of winning the seat. This was another potential win left on the table by the NRCC, who didn’t target the race at all.
CA-16 – Congressman Jim Costa, a Democrat, may or may not have held onto this Central Valley seat. The race is so close that it could go either way. But if his opponent, Republican dairyman Johnny Tacharra, eeks out a win, it will be the surprise upset in the California election and will have been in no part due to any focused effort by national Republicans, who did not target Costa for defeat. One can presume that, had the party put even a small investment into this district, this race would be all done.
CA-24 – Lois Capps is the Democrat incumbent in the Central Coast seat, and to say she is a less than an ideal candidate for her party would be an understatement. Republicans nominated Chris Mitchum (son of famous actor Robert Mitchum), but again the NRCC would not target this race. They can look at the numbers and weep, as Mitchum racked up an impressive 48.4% of the vote, around 6,500 votes shy of winning.
CA-26 – Freshman Democrat Julia Brownley won her Ventura County-based seat two years ago riding on Obama’s coattails. If there was a year to take her out, this may have been it. Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, a war veteran and former prosecutor, waged a hard-faught battle, only to come up tantalizingly short. Brownley won by less than a thousand votes. On everyone’s minds now is the six-figures that former State Senator Tony Strickland raised to take on Brownley – money he took with him to run unsuccessfully in the neighboring, more Republican seat, where Buck McKeon announced his retirement.
CA-31 – Many said this Inland Empire seat, after redistricting, couldn’t elect a Republican – and that it stayed in GOP hands this long only because U.S. Rep. Gary Miller drew a GOP opponent in the 2012 runoff general election. Apparently the NRCC bought that, because one presumes that a late survey in this seat would have shown how competitive the race was to succeed Miller. The NRCC didn’t invest in the election of Republican Paul Chabot at all. Chabot ended up losing by about 3,000 votes, with about 48.4% of the vote.
CA-36 – Dr. Raul Ruiz narrowly defeated Rep. Mary Bono Mack two years ago. This year Assemblyman Brian Nestande carried the GOP torch in a strong effort to put his Inland Empire seat back into the red column. The NRCC played modestly here – but there was nothing modest about the effort of the Democrats. Nestande fell short, garnering only 46.2% of the final vote.
CA-52 – In what was probably the highest profile and most painful loss for Republicans nationally in California, freshman Democrat Scott Peters narrowly edged out former San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio by around 6,000 votes (DeMaio ended up with 48.4%). The race had some bizarre twists at the end, that did not play out well for DeMaio. Looming large in retrospect is the U.S. Chamber’s endorsement of the Democrat in this competitive district.
Obviously hindsight is, as they say, 20-20. But there is simply no way to look at all of these results and not conclude that, had the NRCC made different decisions, there could have been a whole bunch of new freshman Republicans from California, replacing Democrats. 2016, a Presidential election year, will make all of these seats more difficult for GOP pickups in two years.
It is worthy of note that strong performances were made by two GOP incumbents in tough seats in California – both in the Central Valley – Jeff Denham and David Valadeo. And it should be said that this year the California GOP turned the tide back a bit in the state legislature, going from 12 up to 14 members in the 40-member State Senate, and from 25 to 28 members in the 80-member State Assembly. These state legislative gains were in no small part due to a strong focused and well-financed plan largely orchestrated by State GOP Chairman Jim Brulte.