Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

The California Redistricting Quake is Coming

In House, Redistricting on August 3, 2011 at 8:47 am

Assuming they formally adopt the latest version of the congressional redistricting map with few changes on Aug. 15, the new California Citizens Redistricting Commission will wreak havoc upon the Golden State’s congressional delegation. The state’s most senior and powerful members, other than House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-8), didn’t receive particularly favorable treatment from the new map drawers and with such people as House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-CA-26), Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA-30), and Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-CA-28) all facing more challenging political situations, substantial change is on the horizon.

Despite the state not receiving at least one new seat in reapportionment (CA didn’t gain a new district for the first time in history; in the 1990 census, for example, seven seats were added), the redistricting commission created five new open seats. Two other incumbent members, Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA-6) and Bob Filner (D-CA-51) are retiring and running for another office, respectively, meaning a minimum of seven California congressional districts will be open in 2012.

Mr. Dreier has few options. His home is placed in new District 32. In this seat, 50 percent of the voting age population is Hispanic; 21 percent non-Hispanic White; 15 percent Asian; 4 percent African-American. Politically, 47.3 percent are registered Democrat versus just 28.3 percent Republican. President Obama scored 61 percent in the new 32nd; Governor Jerry Brown 57 percent. The other seat that contains a large portion of his current 26th district is new District 35. This option is actually even worse for Dreier. More than 65 percent of the resident voting age population is Hispanic; just 19 percent non-Hispanic White; 8 percent African-American, and 7 percent Asian. Here, 48.5 percent are Democrats compared to 28.5 percent who register Republican. Obama carried 62 percent of the new district’s votes; Brown 57 percent. Additionally, state Sen. Gloria McLeod (D), who already represents a large portion of the new 35th in the legislature, has announced that she will become a congressional candidate.

The only conceivable scenario that places Mr. Dreier in a winnable district is if Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA-24), currently paired with Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA-25) in the new 25th CD, either retires or runs against his GOP colleague, thus leaving the new Ventura County based 26th district open. A large portion of Gallegly’s current constituency is in the new 26th, so spinning into this new district is an option for him. This seat shows a D-R registration breakdown of 41.2-35.4 percent, respectively. Obama posted 57 percent in the new 26th, but the Republican nominees for governor, US senator, and attorney general all carried the district. Without an incumbent running, Rep. Dreier could conceivably move to this seat and become competitive.

Another interesting story is the backdrop surrounding Waxman (D-CA-30) and Berman (D-CA-28). Back in the 70’s, when both men were in the California Assembly, the two joined forces to elect other Los Angeles area Democrats to various offices. Their political partnership was tabbed the “Waxman-Berman Machine” and utilized state-of-the-art fundraising and political communication tactics, as directed by Berman’s brother Michael, to dominate the mega-county’s political landscape.

Now, decades later with both reaching 70 years of age, Waxman and Berman find themselves in challenging re-election situations. The Waxman pairing with newly elected Rep. Janice Hahn (D-CA-36) came about as a result of a new LA County Democratic political power base, the rapidly growing Hispanic community, flexing its muscle.

The original commission map paired Hispanic Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-CA-31) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA-34) into one district. Waxman had a winnable district to himself and Berman was paired with Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA-27) because the huge Hispanic growth in western LA County led to the creation of a new Hispanic seat made mostly from the former’s current 28th CD. The Berman-Sherman match-up is already being termed a “shoot-out” because the intra-party campaign will become a political brawl.

After completing the public comment and lobbying phase of the process, the commission released the latest version of the congressional map. Under its confines, both Becerra and Roybal-Allard now get a safe Democratic seat and Hahn, the daughter of the late Kenneth Hahn who dominated LA County local politics during his tenure as chairman of the County Board of Supervisors and herself a longtime veteran of the LA City Council, is placed in a heavily minority district (new District 44). The bulk of her current district, the seat she just won in a special election last month, which includes the Palos Verdes Peninsula and the beach cities of Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, and El Segundo, now goes to Waxman. This will force Hahn to challenge Waxman in the Democratic primary if she wants to continue her new congressional career. It further means that Waxman will have to run a serious campaign for the first time since his original election to the House back in 1974.

But, that is not all. Though heavily Democratic, the new Waxman-Hahn district (#33) can conceivably vote for a Republican. In the very close 2010 attorney general’s race, a campaign decided in the Democratic nominee’s favor by less than one percentage point statewide, the GOP candidate actually carried the new 33rd by two points. Though a Republican victory here is unlikely at the congressional level, it is possible that Waxman, should he fend off Hahn’s challenge, could see general election competition, too.

In a 53-district state that featured only one incumbent defeat during the entire last decade, the new California map will feature serious primary and/or general election competition in at least 20 districts in 2012. Quite a change is coming.
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