Democrats have their sights set on taking back control of the House of Representatives next year, and southern California is at the heart of that effort.
With Trump’s approval rating the worst ever for a first-year president, Democratic candidates are hoping to ride a blue wave from California all the way to Washington, D.C.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “There already are 43 Democrats, many of them with plenty of campaign cash, lined up to challenge Republicans in the top seven districts targeted by their party.”
In contested districts, Republican incumbents are facing an onslaught of well-funded Democratic opponents.
Rep. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) already has eight opponents seeking to unseat him in a congressional district that Hillary Clinton won by seven points in 2016. Two of those candidates have already raised more than $400,000 each. Taken together, Democratic candidates have raised more than $1 million in Knight’s district, compared to only $670,000 raised by Knight.
Even apart from the lagging fundraising, Knight faces an uphill battle with voters in his congressional district.
A recent poll shows Knight less popular with voters (33 percent approval) than historically unpopular Donald Trump (40 percent approval). And that poll was taken before Knight threw his full support behind a tax bill that almost 60 percent of his constituents oppose.
Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine) is also facing a large number of well-funded Democrats. Walters, who is close to Republican House leadership, won her seat in 2014, but now faces seven announced opponents.
Walters sits in a district that Clinton won by more than five points in 2016. While she has amassed a hefty campaign war chest, raising more than $1.5 million through the most recent filing period, she faces an equally well-financed group of candidates, who have raised a combined $2 million.
While no individual opponent has matched Walters, four have raised more than $300,000.
Walters will need every bit of campaign cash to help defend her decision to support the Republican tax bill. Walters played a pivotal role as part of the California Republican delegation that gave the GOP tax bill the necessary votes to pass, clearly aligning herself with Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan.
One of the few California Republicans to vote against the tax bill, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa, is nonetheless facing 12 announced opponents for his congressional seat, including eight Democrats, two Republicans, one Libertarian, and one independent.
Rohrabacher’s district also voted for Clinton in 2016, but by a smaller margin of only two points. Despite winning re-election, recent polling shows Rohrabacher losing to a “generic democrat” by a 10-point margin.
In the race for cash, Rohrabacher is also trailing the combined donations to Democrats.
Rohrabacher has collected $840,000, while Democrats have raised a combined $1.8 million.
Rohrabacher is also dogged by allegations of being especially close to Vladimir Putin and Russian interests. His own Republican colleagues curtailed his authority as chairman of a congressional subcommittee with jurisdiction over U.S.-Russia policy. Special counsel Robert Mueller has also taken a keen interest in Rohrabacher’s activities, while House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) once said, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.”
Given the potential weakness of these candidates, Democratic enthusiasm is not a surprise. But with California’s “jungle primary” system, where the two candidates with the most votes in the primary move on to the general election, regardless of party affiliation, some are cautioning Democrats to keep their excitement at bay.
“I think it’s a good thing,” said Drew Godinich, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “As (New Mexico Rep.) Ben Ray Luján said, ‘No party ever lost an election due to too much energy and momentum.'”
Time will tell if Democrats can turn both enthusiasm and cash advantages into a blue wave in California that will change the power dynamics across the country in Washington, D.C.