The semi-annual hit lists are now out from both the Democratic and Republican parties as they joust over future control of the House of Representatives, which just might be up for grabs in 2018 because of the record-level unpopularity of President Trump in some polls.
Trump, of course, likes to call the polls “fake news,” but for the most part they were right on the mark last fall. On Election Eve, polls showed Trump behind by about 2.8 percent in the popular vote, very close to the actual margin by which he lost in that category. Many of those polls, however, ignored state-by-state standings that turned out to be keys to the election outcome.
Democrats fervently hope Trump’s unpopularity with almost every group except his hardline base will translate into huge gains for them.
They’ve declared fully half California’s 14 Republican House members vulnerable, introducing a hit list heavy on the Central Valley and Southern California.
Meanwhile, Republicans placed only four of California’s 39 Democratic members of Congress on their own hit list. These lists can be factors in attracting challengers to take on incumbents because they decide where the Democratic and Republican congressional campaign committees will spend millions of donated dollars, especially early in the election season.
But don’t expect much change in California’s representation next year merely because operatives of the opposing parties finger certain people. Most of those on these two lists won office last year by margins of at least 5 percent or 6 percent, a tough obstacle for challengers to overcome.
Typical is Orange County Republican Dana Rohrabacher, who has never been conventional, even in his youthful days as a radio reporter running from one press conference to another in Los Angeles gathering voice actualities for radio stations.
Rohrabacher has lately behaved in ways that might harm an incumbent less firmly entrenched than he is in his coastal district.
He was, for instance, an ardent defender of the former national security advisor Michael Flynn, fired by Trump for lying about contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. He also stopped by on a European trip for a friendly visit with Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s most extreme right-wing party, one that has often been compared with Nazis for some of its stances on national ethnic purity.
But none of that will likely impact Rohrabacher next year. He won by a 58-42 percent margin in 2016 and it would take a political earthquake to wipe out that edge.
Of course, just such a shock nearly happened last fall to San Diego County’s Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, who used to win reelection by margins of 15 and 20 percent, but was reelected last year by barely half a percent (about 1,600 votes) over a retired Marine colonel.
Meanwhile, Sacramento area Democratic Rep. Ami Bera managed reelection by about 2 percent last year over a popular former county sheriff despite his father’s conviction for secretly funneling excessive campaign contributions to Rep. Bera’s campaign, a scandal that received copious news coverage in the district. How much chance would a Republican have this year if that wasn’t enough to beat Bera last time? The scandal will be old news by 2018.
But the parties need targets. So the Republicans regularly name Palm Springs area Democrat Raul Ruiz and San Diego Democrat Scott Peters as targets, even though they won by 24 percent and 14 percent, respectively, last fall over significant opponents. And Democrats believe, as ever, that Central Valley Republicans Jeff Denham and David Valadao are vulnerable despite their handy wins last time and the fact that nothing much has changed for them except that Trump became President.
Democrats also think their voter registration gains in Orange County may help unseat the likes of Reps. Ed Royce and Mimi Walters, each of whom had margins of more than 14 percent in 2016. They note that Democrat Hillary Clinton won the presidential vote in Walters’ district.
The upshot of all this is that not much change is likely in California’s congressional delegation next year, no matter how optimistic the talk from both parties as they flog their targets.
Which means that as Democrats try to take back control of the House next year, they’re not likely to get much help here.
Email Thomas Elias at email@example.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net.