Around the U.S. in 50 Days: California

Redistricting in California is simply a mess. As some left leaning publications have reported, the Democratic Party gamed the allegedly non-partisan redistricting commission while the inept California GOP fell asleep at the wheel and got taken to the cleaners. Perhaps this is a hard lesson learned for California Republicans, but one that may very well undercut the gains made in 2010 and hurt the GOP in that state for the next decade.
Original estimates claimed that the state could possibly lose one or two House seats. However, the growth in the Hispanic population offset any losses in population elsewhere, so they retain their 53 seats and 55 electoral votes.
Larry Sabato had an excellent article on his website about the unemployment rate and the economy in general and its effects on Presidential elections. To summarize, although Obama is in uncharted territory when it comes to unemployment numbers, it should not make too much of a difference when electoral votes are tallied. Using California as the prime example, their unemployment rate exceeds the national average, but does anyone really believe the GOP will carry this state? Clearly, their deep blue status trumps the unemployment rate and certainly bleak economy of that state.
For the Senate seat, Diane Feinstein seeks another term. Currently, the best the California GOP can put forward is Elizabeth Emken- a losing Congressional candidate in 2010 and autism advicate- and Orly Taitz- a dentist who lost to gain his party’s nomination for Secretary of State in the 2010 primary. There are some possibilities starting with Chuck DeVore who finished third in the Republican Party primary for Senate in 2010 to face Barbara Boxer. There is also Steve Poizner who gave Meg Whitman somewhat of a fight in the GOP Gubernatorial primary in 2010. And also Carly Fiorina’s name has been mentioned although I doubt it because she spent a lot of money to lose to a more vulnerable Barbara Boxer in 2010. At best, the best the GOP can hope for is to ding Feinstein along the way, but there is little doubt she will return to the Senate. Preliminary polling shows her at least 18 points ahead of any opponent in hypothetical match ups. Given the size of the state, any campaign is a costly endeavor and it would take lots of money to defeat Feinstein, plus a perfect storm of political winds. If a Republican can a low-cost campaign and came within 10-12 points, they should count that as a victory.
As for the Congressional districts, that is where the intrigue and drama will occur. The current split is 34-19 for the Democrats.
Lynn Woolsey is retiring from the 2nd District thus opening the path for Marin County Supervisor Sue Adams to take over. She should face only token GOP opposition. In the 51st, Bob Filner is leaving to run for Mayor of San Diego and although there may be a primary battle between Denise Ducheny and Juan Vargas, either one of those Democrats will be elected.
I currently count 30 safe Democratic seats out of the 34 they currently hold. But even in the safe districts, there are some intriguing battles. In the 9th, Jerry McNerney seems to be a perennial target of Republicans and will be again in 2012. The 30th will feature a heavyweight battle between two incumbent Democrats- Howard Berman (CA-28) and Brad Sherman (CA-27). Likewise, the same thing should occur in 44th where Janice Hahn (CA-36) will likely face Laura Richardson (CA-37). In the heavily Latino 46th, Republicans will likely run Pat Garcia, a Latino Tea Party activist. That should be interesting.
The newly drawn 3rd will pit incumbent Democrat John Garamendi against Rick Tubbs again with most likely the same outcome. In the 16th, John Costa moves over from the 16th and will most likely replace the retiring Dennis Cardoza. The 24th becomes more Hispanic which makes Republican Abel Maldonado, who has an impressive political resume, a viable candidate against Lois Capps. I think this potential race is one to watch from the GOP standpoint. Finally, the 47th has an outside chance to become competitive, but only if the Democratic primary turns acrimonious.
For Repubicans, I can count only 11 safe seats. Among them, Jerry Lewis should face a close race in the 31st, but prevail. And the conservative 39th District may feature Gary Miller (CA-42) facing fellow Republican Ed Royce (CA-40), but it will remain Republican.
In the riskier districts, Dan Lungren faces a tough re-election effort against Ami Bera. Lungren has been targeted by the DNCC and they will got at him with a vengeance in 2012. The 8th is newly drawn and should remain GOP territory while in the 10th, incumbent Republican Jeff Denham will face heavy competition in either Mike Barkley or former NASA astronaut, Jose Hernandez. Likewise, Elton Gallaghy faces a likely loss. The 32nd will most likely pit current incumbents of different parties against one another- David Dreier (CA-26) will face Grace Napolitano (CA-38). I expect a close Democratic victory here.
A few closing notes are in order. Politically, things are greatly in flux on the Left Coast. Some incumbents have not yet made decisions to run in certain districts while others may opt to run in nearby and more friendly political territory. Also, some may decide to retire into the private sector rather than test new political territory. Hence, this analysis is purely preliminary.
Second, most experts predict Democrats will gain 3-5 House seats out of California. This analysis predicts four, three if Abel Maldonado- the GOP’s best chance to flip a district- prevails.
Third, although well-meaning, the allegedly non-partisan redistricting commission was clearly played for fools. There is little doubt that the DNCC had a serious hand in shaping these new districts, especially in the northern part of the state. The commission decided early on that they were going to listen to the concerns of ordinary citizens before making decisions and drawing maps. We now know that Democratic operatives were playing the role of “citizens” before the commission, but that many were not and some were not even Californians. Democratic strategists armed with sophisticated mapping software have replaced the smoke-filled back rooms of yesteryear. But as egregious as this is, more galling is the fact that the California GOP got caught with their pants down. If they had a modicum of sophistication, the mere fact that Democratic areas- absent Hispanic population growth- saw population stagnation, if not declines. Meanwhile, Republican areas showed population increases. That alone should have been a red flag for all to see. If they did not see it, then shame on them. If they saw it and did not act, then greater shame on them. Many on the Right are now crying foul against the Democratic Party and their actions in California. But, I lay the blame at the feet of the California GOP, such that it exists.
To summarize, Obama gets the 55 electoral votes, Feinstein gets sent back to the Senate and Republicans lose 4 seats in the House.
Running totals to date:
Obama 78 electoral votes to GOP’s 25;
No change in the Senate;
Net gain of two Governors, and;
Net loss of two House seats.

Next stop: Arizona