By Jean Merl
October 26, 2014

In many close election contests, candidates run to the middle. Not Paul Chabot.

The Republican military veteran vying for a congressional seat in an increasingly Democratic Inland Empire district is trumpeting his conservative views. He is embracing endorsements from gun-rights advocates and anti-abortion groups.

Analysts give a slight edge to his Democratic opponent, Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, in the spirited battle to succeed retiring Rep. Gary Miller (R-Rancho Cucamonga). Miller won the seat two years ago, after a surfeit of Democratic candidates splintered their party’s vote in the top-two primary and he ended up on the fall ballot against another Republican.

Democrats, who hold a six-point registration advantage over Republicans in the district, see the race as one of their best opportunities to pick up a House seat this year. That doesn’t seem to faze Chabot.

“This district has a lot of Democrats,” Chabot, 40, said in a recent interview. “But they’re conservative, middle-class or working-class Democrats.

“….There are a lot of veterans, a lot of highly religious” people with whom he believes his views and personal redemption story — he was an alcoholic at age 12 — are resonating.

Aguilar, 35, was one of the Democrats who ran for the seat in 2012, and party leaders urged him to try again this year. He has charted a middle course.

He says his “proven track record” of balancing city budgets, fostering job growth and “reaching across party lines to get things done” is more in tune with the district’s voters, 21% of whom are not affiliated with a political party.

“I have the same shared values that this district has,” Aguilar said in an interview last week. “They want someone they know they can trust on the important issues of the day that will move the middle class forward.”

Despite the Democrats’ registration edge and other factors that favor Aguilar, the political environment this year is unfavorable for the party, said Cal State San Bernardino political scientist Brian Janiskee.

He pointed to President Obama’s low standing in the polls and the fact that Democrats have historically been less consistent voters than Republicans — especially when there is no presidential race on the ballot.

Those tendencies and the low voter turnout that most experts predict could give some Republicans an advantage. “A low-turnout dynamic,” Janiskee said, could help Chabot “keep the race close.”

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