Yolo County has one of the more intriguing congressional races developing. John Garamendi is a name most Californians know – he has spent years building and rebuilding a political career in Sacramento.
Two years ago he won a special election for Congress. Now he is forced to basically start all over again in a district that is 80% different from the one he first ran in just two years ago.
Only the Fairfield portion of Solano County is a holdover.
Republicans are targeting this as a district that they can at least compete in. It is a Democratic-leaning district with a plurality of 42-33 percent Democrats, but there is no Democratic majority.
Congressperson Garamendi has five opponents including Colusa County Supervisor Kim Vann, reserve officer and pilot Rick Tubbs, realtor and karate instructor Eugene Ray and Sutter County Deputy District Attorney Tony Carlos.
He has thus far raised just under $1 million for this race.
His most likely opponent is Colusa County Supervisor Kim Vann who has raised the most money and earned the second endorsement by the Sacramento Bee.
The Bee pointed out that she has refused to sign the non-tax pledge that they say “binds the ability of too many Republicans to negotiate with Democrats.”
They also argue that she would be willing to “fight for the 3rd District’s share of aid for transportation and other projects, unlike many Republicans who religiously eschew earmarks.”
On most other issues, she is a party-line Republican. “She opposes the Affordable Care Act, and what she sees as unnecessary regulation, and says she supports gun owners’ rights. Coming from a farming family, she is keenly interested in changes to California’s water delivery system.”
The Bee believes that Supervisor Vann would give the incumbent a real challenge in November. However, the Congressional representative is a veteran campaigner.
His campaign spokesperson told the Vanguard on Sunday that he is not taking anything for granted, he is knocking on doors. And they feel he is a great fit with his rural roots for a district that includes portions of eight counties – Glenn, Solano east of Fairfield, Colusa, Lake, Yuba-Sutter, all of Yolo County except for West Sacramento and even a little bit of Sacramento County.
Experts believed that the blanket primary system, in which the top two vote getters in the primary regardless of party affiliation will face off in the fall, will advantage moderates. Under the previous system, with party primaries, the more extreme party loyalists would select the candidates, giving the advantage to liberal Democrats and Conservative Republicans.
The verdict is too early to tell, but in the North Bay District that seated Lynn Woolsey of Petluma, Norman Solomon, a longtime activist and iconic figure of the progressive left, has a real shot at a second-place finish.
Assemblymember Jared Huffman remains the frontrunner on Tuesday. He has raised the most money at $1 million.
But Mr. Solomon is in a battle with political newcomer and liberal business person Stacey Lawson, in a heavily-tilting Democratic district.
Under the old system, Mr. Solomon would have no chance to make to the general election, as a Jared Huffman would be the clear favorite.
How serious is Mr. Solomon? Not only has he raised $630,000, behind Assemblymember Huffman and Ms. Lawson, but he sent out controversial attack mailers against Ms. Lawson.
One of the mailers cites Ms. Lawson’s acknowledged failure to vote in eight of 12 elections from 2003-08. The controversial part is the comparisons of Ms. Lawson pictorially with both Meg Witman, the one-time gubernatorial candidate and Pinocchio.
Mr. Solomon has been criticized for going negative against his principles, but he defends it as a legitimate criticism.
“A progressive principle is that we do not accept multi-millionaires buying elections,” he said.
The California Federation of Teachers has endorsed Mr. Solomon’s candidacy.
“We look forward to working with you to promote issues pertaining to California’s educational system, public employees, and protecting the interests of working families,” the union’s president, Joshua Pechthalt, said in a letter to Mr. Solomon.
Mr. Solomon responded by vowing to work for full support of public education and working people.
“The status quo is unacceptable,” he said. “Students, teachers, parents and communities deserve robust public investment in our schools. This is an unwavering commitment that I intend to fulfill as the North Coast’s representative in Congress.”
“The leading Republican contender is Daniel Roberts, a Mill Valley financial adviser who wants to amend accounting laws to stop corporate fraud. He’s the stronger GOP contender in the race, but he faces an uphill fight in this left-leaning district,” the Santa Rosa paper reported.
They endorsed Assemblymember Huffman and wrote of Mr. Solomon, “Solomon is passionate on progressive causes and speaks well on issues of foreign policy. But this district needs someone who will do more than speak out about bringing troops home from war, something just about all the candidates have pledged to do. In our view, it requires someone who has a history of legislative success and/or experience in elected office, which both Solomon and Lawson lack.”
Ultimately in November, Mr. Huffman presumably would win out, but one never knows. The blanket primary gives a Norman Solomon a chance to compete where the previous system did not.
On the other hand, the new redistricting has, in two southern California Districts, pitted Democrat against Democrat.
In July of 2011, Janice Hahn won a special election for Congress to fill the seat vacated by Democrat Jane Harman. Despite the strong Democratic lean of the district, she defeated Republican Craig Huey, a Tea Party-backed direct marketer from the Torrance area, with 55 percent of the vote to her opponent’s 45 percent.
Less than a year later she is battling for her life against Laura Richardson, a three-term Congresswoman.
“I was sort of disappointed,” said Congressperson Hahn in an interview earlier in the campaign.
“I wished that Laura had assessed it for a longer period about what it would mean,” Hahn said. “But, she just said that she would be doing this and hoped that I understood why she was moving to run in the same district as me.”
“I’m taking this race seriously, even though there’s another one in November,” Congresswoman Richardson said. “I’ve been in Congress for five years and my opponent has been here for less than a year. It’s not about making promises of what we would do, it’s about what we have accomplished and who is best positioned to continue serving.”
“When I get out and talk to people, I’m not hearing any concerns about race,” Ms. Hahn said. “They’re looking for someone who will bring jobs and work across the aisle to get things done, not about the color of the person who represents them.”
“I think it was an interesting move by the redistricting committee and speaks to the fact that there are unique issues in our community,” Ms. Richardson said. “I believe the reason why the communities I represent continue to vote for me is because I’m a part of them and I get it.”
Meanwhile in another Southern California District, a USC Poll shows Rep. Brad Sherman leading fellow Democratic Rep. Howard Berman, 31.7% to 24%, with more than 23% of those surveyed saying they had not yet made up their minds.
Dan Schnur, who directed the poll, said “the survey showed both Berman and Sherman were doing well in the parts of the new district that each currently represents in his old district. The two veteran congressmen’s homes wound up in the same district in last year’s redrawing of state political maps, and both insisted on seeking reelection in that district.”
This is a Democratic district with Democrats outnumbering Republicans 48 to 26 percent.
The irony, Mr. Schnur said, “is that in this Democratic district, it is the Republican voters that could determine the outcome in the fall.”
However, these battles are really more anomaly than the rule. Any time one redistricts, there will be some of these battles between incumbents. But that is a one-time phenomenon.
Overall, it is too soon to tell if the new primary will create new dynamics. Most observers do not expect it to impact the Democrats’ stranglehold on government. The only real question is whether it will ultimately produce more competitive districts and give more moderate figures a chance to compete.
—David M. Greenwald reporting