Redistricting and the state’s new primary system are shaking up Inland congressional election scenarios
BY BEN GOAD AND JIM MILLER
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Published: 27 December 2011 09:10 PM
WASHINGTON — Days away from a pivotal election year, Inland Southern California’s congressional races are beginning to take shape.
The region is seen as a vital battleground between Republicans, who have long dominated traditionally conservative Riverside and San Bernardino counties, and Democrats, who want to pick up some of the 25seats they need to wrest control of the House from the GOP.
The combination of a first-of-its-kind redistricting process and a new top-two primary system that allows members of the same party to compete in general elections has added new wrinkles to the region’s House races.
And for the first time in a decade, Inland residents will have new representation in Congress.
At least four of the region’s five incumbents — Reps. Ken Calvert, R-Corona; Mary Bono Mack, R-Palm Springs; Joe Baca, D-Rialto; and Darrell Issa, R-Vista — are seeking re-election in 2012. However, the state’s redistricting commission has significantly altered California’s congressional district lines, giving each of their home districts a new look.
For example, Issa, who now represents Temecula, Lake Elsinore and Perris, will no longer represent any part of the Inland area if re-elected. His district now contains portions of San Diego and Orange counties. Instead, Temecula will be part of a new San Diego-county based district, where Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, is the favorite to win.
Calvert is running, thus far unopposed, in a district that includes the rest of Issa’s former Riverside County territory. While he is widely expected to win there, races in other newly shaped districts are less certain.
Baca has chosen to run in the new 35th Congressional District, which includes Ontario, Chino, Pomona, parts of Fontana and Rialto — but not Baca’s home, which was drawn into a less Democratic-leaning district to the east and north. There are no rules against running from outside a district, and Baca has aggressively sought to label himself the incumbent, noting that his current district encompasses most of the territory contained in the new 35th.
Baca has jumped out to a significant fundraising lead over his challenger, state Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod, and last week he earned an endorsement from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Still, Negrete McLeod, D-Chino, said she is in the race to stay. In a jab at Baca, she has noted that she actually lives in the 35th.
Negrete McLeod, who defeated Baca’s son in a bitter 2006 primary, downplayed the congressman’s backing from the Democratic committee and congressional colleagues. But she acknowledged that Baca has a significant fundraising edge so far.
“Does he have an advantage? Probably,” Negrete McLeod said. “But I’m going to work hard. I’m a hard worker.”
Since both candidates are Democrats, the new primary system will be a significant factor in the race. Under the new voter-approved rules, the top two finishers in June’s primary vote will move on to the November general election, regardless of their party. That means Baca and McLeod could square off twice.
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