What’s happening in California is a peculiar race: A candidate in a party that doesn’t have to worry about red or blue over there is challenging a sitting Republican member of Congress.
Take the 36th District, which Republicans traditionally hold, and I won’t go into the gender issue.
If the Senate race in Georgia is any indication, a lot of conservative voters in places like California aren’t fans of higher taxes and big government spending. Yet many of them want somebody to take on Republicans in Washington. Of course, that would mean, in many cases, picking a Democrat in the near future.
Democrats are already positioning themselves to retake control of the House in 2018. If the state party has a candidate that inspires Democrats to vote in these midterms, Democrats could be on the verge of defending a net gain of 23 House seats in two years’ time.
This situation is a little bit strange, because California isn’t part of the Senate electoral map. All 38 seats are in the House. That means there is still a good chance for Democratic success on November 8, because it’s in the House. But the 36th is possibly in play.
California isn’t even considered a swing state. Republicans are hugely unpopular here and Hillary Clinton won 54 percent of the vote here. Moreover, Barack Obama lost 54 percent of the vote here in 2012.
So, in the rare kind of environment where the fact that Obama was on the ballot might do you some good, why are Democrats in a panic about a race in a state that’s already blue?
One reason is because the primary race is getting national attention and is getting played by both sides. The race, for the right to take on freshman Rep. Duncan Hunter, represents one of the first potential opportunities for Democrats to pick up one of the California seats they are dreaming of.
There’s also some of the old psychology that’s out there in California, too. Democrats like to complain that Republicans “relied” on Trump in their districts. It’s easy to argue that a winning candidate can be unaffiliated with the president, but just as easy to count on the notion that an anti-Trump Republican is a safe one. At least they get to vote against the president.
So, Democrats are upset that Hunter, unlike Sessions, can vote with the GOP in the House. They worry that if Hunter ends up going along with Trump on his plans to repeal Obamacare, Democrats will capitalize on that.
Then there’s another, lesser known local GOP candidate, Matt Rexroad, who has the backing of a majority of GOP voters here. He’s a conservative former state lawmaker who ran on the state’s tea party-style platform. Rexroad, it seems, is hot. He’s a Tea Party Club leader, so there’s always room for people like that in a big, blue state.
When I asked Rexroad how he thinks Democrats can win this race, he said he thinks he’s still the favorite because of his popularity among party faithful in the district.
Other Republicans have thrown their weight behind Hunter in this race, including Rep. Darrell Issa, the longtime representative who’s retiring. Issa was no fan of Hunter when the Marine doubled-down on his health care comments that Rep. Albio Sires (D-N.J.) once had to walk a mile to get to the doctor. But many might recognize him as a favorite of gun rights groups.
So, overall, the GOP doesn’t have a big home-field advantage here. But there are two interesting aspects to this race that are worth noting. First, Hunter can be a little feisty. In a July 2015 debate, he said that if a veteran showed up at a town hall wearing an Obama T-shirt, Hunter “will cuss you out.”
Second, Hunter’s wife Margaret has been caught up in federal corruption charges. News of this case was certainly scaring some Republican donors, who were wary of the husband-and-wife-elected-officials dynamic. That means Hunter could find himself without some major financial backing from major corporations that see his office as a perk.
This is clearly an important race in both California and Washington. And why isn’t a lot of news being made about it? It’s because Democrats are up in arms about a race in a state that was never in play.