Joe BacaNegrete-McLeod

California Democrats may face off in 35th District rematch, add new chapter to shared history

By Kyle Trygstad
Roll Call Staff
Feb. 7, 2013, 7:49 p.m.

The first congressional grudge match of the 2014 cycle has launched in California’s Inland Empire.

Redistricting, ambition and dynasty politics laid the groundwork there last year for the unceremonious end to former Rep. Joe Baca’s two-decade reign.

His fellow California Democrat, freshman Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod, took advantage of a new top-two primary system and a redrawn district to defeat the six-term incumbent by a remarkable 12 points. But to the surprise of few, the ambitious Baca wants back in, adding a new chapter to what some local observers have dubbed a “blood feud” between the two politicos.

Baca, one of seven California incumbents to lose in 2012, blamed his defeat in the vast exurbs east of Los Angeles on $3.3 million in outside spending. In the final weeks of the campaign, a super PAC controlled by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched the multimillion-dollar campaign targeting Baca’s conservative record on gun control.

Few quibble with the effect of the late network TV ad blitz, but Golden State party strategists said there were also some underlying issues that contributed to the downfall of the longtime elected official in a region where the politics of the present remain intertwined with the past.

“I would say that Joe Baca really became a political institution in the Inland Empire, and I think he did that through force of personality, political successes and just a combination of things and forces,” Los Angeles Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman said. “But that said, he has, on more than one occasion, overreached.”

The history between Baca and Negrete McLeod, who live in opposite ends of the 35th District, dates back to 1999. Negrete McLeod served as a field representative for Baca during his year in the state Senate. Baca’s political career took a turn when he quickly jumped into a special election to replace the late Democratic Rep. George E. Brown Jr.

Democratic strategists said a palpable bitterness remains from that race, in which Baca defeated Marta Macias Brown, the late congressman’s widow, in the all-party primary. It was one year after both Mary Bono and Lois Capps succeeded their late husbands in the California delegation.

“As the saying goes, all politics are local, and the local politics in the Inland Empire have long been dominated by this struggle between Congressman Brown and Joe Baca,” said Andrew Acosta, who managed Baca’s campaign that year. “And it’s still playing itself out today.”

Since that first House race, Baca has had little trouble with re-election. And after a few years in Congress, he turned his attention to helping his children in their own quests for public office. That’s where Negrete McLeod and Baca’s paths crossed again.

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