California Rep. John Campbell (R-CA-45), first elected to the House in a 2005 special election, announced late last week that he will leave Congress when 2014 concludes. “At the end of this term, I will have spent 14 years serving in full-time, elected politics. I am not, nor did I ever intend, to be a career politician. I am ready to begin a new chapter in my life,” Campbell said in his retirement statement.
Aside from his congressional service, John Campbell was originally elected to the state Assembly in 2000, and then won a state Senate seat in 2004. When then-Rep. Chris Cox (R-CA-48) resigned from Congress to become chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Campbell jumped into the special election and won, but with just 44.4 percent of the vote. Still, his plurality percentage was far ahead of Democrat Steve Young’s 27.8 percent. The big election story was Minuteman founder and anti-illegal immigration activist Jim Gilchrist drawing 25.5 percent on the American Independent Party line.
Soon after the special election, Gilchrist seemed intent on challenging Campbell in the 2006 Republican primary, but backed off when the candidate filing deadline drew near. The congressman went onto score a 60-37 percent victory over Young, who sought a regular election re-match.
The newly configured, post-redistricting 45th District is a high 50s Republican district. While Rep. Campbell was winning his 2012 re-election with 58 percent of the vote against Irvine Mayor Sukhee Kang (D), in what was thought to be a moderately competitive challenge, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney defeated President Obama 55-43 percent within the district’s confines.
California’s 45th Congressional District is fully contained within Orange County and though solidly Republican, it is not exclusively so. The seat covers only a small portion of the densely populated county, encompassing the Interstate 5 cities of Irvine (population: 209,716), Mission Viejo (94,651 inhabitants), Tustin (72,539 residents), Lake Forest (60,793 people), and Rancho Santa Margarita (49,458 population).
Waiting in the wings is state Sen. Mimi Walters (R), who succeeded Campbell in the state Assembly in 2004. She captured the Senate seat in 2008, and was easily re-elected in 2012. Prior to her service in the legislature, Sen. Waters was both a city councilwoman and mayor of the city of Laguna Niguel.
Already representing the dominant portion of the district, Walters immediately assumes front-runner status. Having a four-year term, Walters is not on the ballot in 2014 so she is not forced to risk her Senate seat in order to run for Congress. This is yet another advantage in what appears to be a virtually perfect set-up. For the Democrats, Mayor Kang again is top of mind as likely the strongest contender for his party, but will have at least as difficult a road to forge against Walters as he would opposite Rep. Campbell.