Republicans look for California House wins in 2018 midterms

Republicans look for California House wins in 2018 midterms
© Greg Nash

Democrats see California as the key to taking back the House in 2018, but Republicans think they can hang on in the blue state — and even pick up some new GOP seats in the midterm elections.

The GOP is optimistic that a leftward-lurching Democratic Party will give it room to go on the offense in the Golden State, with four Democratic seats in their sights.

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“We are excited about the caliber of candidates that we are looking at in all these seats,” National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) regional spokesman Jack Pandol told The Hill.

“We are going to keep pointing out how these Democrats are lurching further to the left.”

The NRCC has identified four Democratic California incumbents as targets: Reps. Ami BeraAmerish (Ami) Babulal BeraDemocrats bicker over strategy on impeachment Seniors deserve access to Health Savings Accounts Democratic lawmakers support Bustos after DCCC resignations MORE, Salud Carbajal, Raul Ruiz and Scott Peters. All will be tough pickups for the GOP, with all four candidates fundraising well and running in districts that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonState cites 38 people for violations in Clinton email review Trump campaign to hold rallies in Mississippi, Kentucky Biden struggles to reverse fall MORE won in 2016.

Bera, Ruiz and Peters are regular targets for Republicans, having survived some of the toughest reelection fights in recent memory. Carbajal, meanwhile, is a freshman lawmaker who won an open seat in November.

Bera’s race in the Sacramento area is already heating up with a top-tier GOP recruit in Andrew Grant, a retired Marine and business executive.

“They are all an uphill struggle, but Ami Bera in the 7th [District] is the most at risk,” said Rob Pyers, the research director for the nonpartisan California Target Book, a state political journal.

“We’ll have to see how Grant’s fundraising shakes out, but so far he seems like a credible candidate.”

Grant has also worked at the State, Homeland Security and Defense departments. He worked as an executive at Raley’s Supermarkets and is now the president of the Northern California World Trade Center, a group that promotes international trade for California companies.

While Grant’s government and military experience is central to his story as a candidate, he pointed to his business work in an interview with The Hill to argue for a new path for business in California’s 7th District.

“There’s been a pretty strong lockdown on stringent regulations, on not allowing the proper balance between costs and obligations to the environment, to labor codes — all things that are impacting the ability for this community to grow,” Grant told The Hill.

Grant said he won’t be afraid to break from President Trump but framed Bera as too partisan for the district.

“The politics of the Bay Area don’t work here— it’s the same party led by [House Democratic Leader] Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco that [Bera] would have to oppose,” Grant said.

“When I observed what he’s done and did not do, I felt that no one was standing up from our community unique from that politics.”

Bera is no stranger to close races since he joined the House after the 2012 elections. His victory last November wasn’t called until 10 days after Election Day, and he won his 2014 reelection by less than 1 percentage point.

In Congress, Bera has been lauded for his bipartisan style. His medical degree has given him visibility on issues such as healthcare reform.

But he’s been dogged by a scandal relating to his father, who pleaded guilty to election fraud charges in funneling illegal donations to his son’s campaign in 2010 and 2012. He’s now serving a year in federal prison.

Democrats aren’t overly concerned about the scandal turning into a serious liability for Bera, noting that he survived a tough race in 2016 after his father’s sentencing.

“It’s hard for me to imagine a Republican being able to mount the type of campaign that they need to with the national political headwinds, but also with the campaign infrastructure that Ami Bera has,” one Democrat familiar with the race told The Hill, adding that Bera is still taking his GOP challenger seriously.

Analysts and partisans agree that the 7th District will likely be the GOP’s best chance at flipping a seat, since only one other incumbent in California faces a strong challenger so far.

Afghan-American veteran Omar Qudrat, who played a role in the prosecution of high-profile terrorists like 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed during his time at the Defense Department, announced that he’s running against Peters in the 52nd District.

The other two districts don’t have major Republican challengers yet.

Ruiz’s seat is considered the most purple — according to the Cook Political Report, the 36th District leans just 2 percentage points more liberal in presidential years than the national average. But while Ruiz is a familiar GOP target, he’s so far had the upper hand.

Carbajal’s status as a freshman has turned him into a target for the GOP. But so far, no prominent Republican has declared. Justin Fareed, a strong GOP recruit in 2016 who impressed with his fundraising chops and background as a former college football player and congressional aide, hasn’t ruled out a bid.

Republicans could be helped by the ongoing internal Democratic debate over single-payer healthcare.

California’s Democrat-controlled state legislature is still battling over the policy, which will stay front and center in major statewide races in 2018. That could give Republicans the chance to tie vulnerable lawmakers to the policy and the big tax increases it comes with, even though no Democratic incumbent currently supports it.

Meanwhile, Democrats are targeting nine California Republicans, including seven in districts Clinton carried. Given that offensive push, Democrats aren’t expecting to play much defense in California — the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has already moved staffers to California to lay the groundwork for that push.

“Every one of the Democrats there are strong incumbents who have deep community ties and who are doing the work to get reelected every single year,” said Andrew Godinich, regional spokesman for the DCCC.

National Republican groups are starting to lay groundwork in California.

The NRCC recently ran digital spots blasting a group of lawmakers, including the four targeted California Democrats, for not backing a recent water policy bill — a key issue in a state that regularly struggles with drought.

California Republican challengers could receive some outside help, too. So far, the Congressional Leadership Fund has largely focused on protecting incumbents. It has four field offices open there, all in districts with vulnerable GOP incumbents, and plans to open at least two more offices in the state.

The super PAC with ties to House GOP leadership says there are plans to open offices in districts with Democratic incumbents, and it is also keeping close tabs on districts like Bera’s and Carbajal’s.

That outside help could be important in a midterm when Republicans are expected to be more focused on protecting their majority than expanding it.

But Pandol, the NRCC aide, said that the group is “confident” about the chances in those targets, arguing that competitive Democratic primaries will mean Democratic candidates enter the general election cycle with fewer resources.

“Money will be much more of an issue on their side in those districts where the field is splintered,” he said.