Several incumbent lawmakers face uncertain futures and potential match-ups against fellow members under California’s new map of congressional districts, which has been all but finalized.
Democrats are likely to pick up one to three seats under the redistricting plan, but the map could have more far-reaching consequences — a slew of competitive House races in the state over the next decade.
The biggest factor is the uncertainty: Lawmakers will be running in districts that have suddenly become competitive, and will have to introduce themselves to new constituents added to the voter rolls because of the shifting boundaries.
“It’s much more volatile,” said Tony Quinn, a redistricting expert who advises Republicans. “Nobody’s ever run a campaign in these seats for Congress when they were competitive.”
The chaos was caused by the new bipartisan California Citizens’ Redistricting Commission, which was created by a ballot proposition last year to undo California’s heavily gerrymandered congressional and state House maps.
The map has yet to be finalized, but strategists from both parties don’t expect much to change before they are released this Friday. There will then be a two-week waiting period before the map is officially approved by the commission. No one expects the commission to vote down the map, or that any group will challenge it in court.
University of California-Berkeley Professor Bruce Cain has identified 13 districts that could be in play under the new map. That stands in stark contrast to California’s current congressional boundaries: Of the state’s 51 seats, only one has changed parties in the last decade.
At-risk House members include Democratic Reps. Howard Berman, Lois Capps, Janice Hahn and Laura Richardson, and Republicans David Dreier, Elton Gallegly and Ed Royce, all of whom will have their districts drastically altered.
Royce and Berman are in the most danger, as their districts all but disappeared in the new map and they don’t have a logical place to move to for a new run. Royce may challenge Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.) for a seat that has a small part of his current district. Berman may challenge Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) in a district that contains many more of Sherman's voters than Berman's or could run further west in a Hispanic-majority seat.
Dreier is also at high risk — his current Republican-leaning district becomes a Democratic-leaning one, and a fast-growing Hispanic population means that even if he manages to win next year, the area could become harder and harder to hold in subsequent elections.
Hahn, who just came into office in July’s special election, has said she might run in a heavily African-American district in Compton, which could put her in a primary against Richardson, an African-American lawmaker. Richardson has faced tough primaries before, but she’s also facing questions about allegations she required staff members to work campaign events, which is a violation of federal law.
Capps and Gallegly hail from the same centrist area north of Los Angeles, but their districts were gerrymandered to be safe. Now they are both toss-ups. Capps will likely face former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, a Republican with a half-million dollars in his campaign account.
Other incumbents who should be concerned include Democrats Linda Sanchez and Jim Costa, and Republicans Brian Bilbray, Dan Lungren and Mary Bono Mack.
Costa’s seat becomes about 10 points more Republican, and while it still leans slightly Democratic, the Hispanic voters he relies on often don’t always show up in midterm elections. There are rumors he might move north to run for the seat of his good friend, Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D), who could be considering leaving Congress.
Lungren’s district still leans Republican but is not quite as red as it used to be. The four-term lawmaker has faced tough races the past two elections and is an underwhelming campaigner and fundraiser. Physician Ami Bera (D) came within 7 points of beating him in 2010, a Republican year, and is one of Democrats’ top fundraisers so far. Assemblywoman Alyson Huber (D) is also eyeing the seat, and both Democrats and Republicans say she could be formidable.
Sanchez will have to run in unfamiliar territory east of her current district, in an area that is not as liberal.
Bono Mack’s district remains Republican-leaning, but she has faced serious challengers the last few elections as a large number of Hispanics have moved into the area. While she will have the edge in any race and is known as a centrist, if the demographic change in that part of the state continues, she could face tough competition in future elections. One thing working for her: The commission created many new Hispanic-majority House and state House seats nearby, which would be more attractive for up-and-coming Democrats in the area.
The map also resulted in at least one retirement. Democratic Rep. Bob Filner will leave the House to run for mayor of San Diego — the map would make his district heavily Hispanic and he would likely have faced a tough primary challenger.
Adding to next year’s election confusion, another proposition California voters passed creates a “Jungle Primary,” where the top two vote-getters in the first round go on to the final round, meaning two Democrats or two Republicans could square off in a general election.
This new law and the new map could combine to make politicians of both parties seek the center.
“It presents an opportunity for the Republican Party to alter its course … and do what the Bush wing of the party has been wanting to do and nominate some moderate Republican Hispanics that can win in places like the Central Valley and Inland Empire,” Cain said.
Quinn agreed that the reforms “actually worked” in creating more seats where centrists can win. “The Capps seat and the Gallegly seat, and this new Riverside seat, invite moderates to run,” he said. “The same thing is really true in this Dreier seat.”
-- This story was updated at 2:39 p.m. to correct the list of members at risk. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) was added.