Rep. Raul Ruiz

With a short history in elected office, Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Palm Desert) is going to have to work especially hard to let residents of his 36th District know what he has done for them. All four embattled Democrats will need to figure out ways to win voters outside the party without alienating those within it to the point that they stay home on election day, a strategist said. (Don Bartletti, Los Angeles Times / September 12, 2012)

By Jean Merl
March 17, 2014, 10:05 p.m.

At a recent reception in their honor, four of California’s Democratic freshman House members posed for photos and beamed at well-wishers. But signs of the battles they face were hard to miss.

Asked by a fellow politician how his reelection campaign was going, Rep. Scott Peters of San Diego replied, “Hanging in. Got a tough race.”

The same answer could have come from any of the honorees.

Although the rest of their first-term colleagues occupy seats in strongly Democratic districts, for these four, California’s deep blue hue looks more like pale violet. Almost from the day they got elected, they have been in the sights of a Republican Party eager to reinforce its dominance in the House and reverse its low fortunes in the largely Democratic Golden State.

In the 2012 elections, Peters, Ami Bera of Elk Grove, Julia Brownley of Westlake Village and Raul Ruiz of Palm Desert captured seats held by the GOP that party leaders hope to win back this year.

Without a presidential race to spur Democratic turnout — historically lower than the GOP’s in such elections — and with minuscule registration differences between the two major parties in their districts, the freshman Democrats know they’ve got their work cut out for them.

“The key will be what kind of opponents they end up with” in the fall, said Gary C. Jacobson, a UC San Diego political scientist. If those rivals are “Republicans who appeal to moderates, they will be formidable.”

“The core Republican constituency in California tends to be pretty far to the right, so party leaders are going to have to throw their weight behind the most [broadly] attractive candidates” if they hope to prevail in the fall, Jacobson said.

In Bera’s 7th District in the Sacramento suburbs, three Republicans are running: Susan Emken, an autism activist who made a lopsided challenge to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) in 2012; businessman and former congressman Doug Ose; and attorney Igor Birman, a top aide to Rep.Tom McClintock (R-Granite Bay), who has endorsed him.

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