By John Wildermuth
Published: February 16, 2018
Updated:   February 17, 2018 – 8:41am

Rep. Doug LaMalfa, whose Butte County seat is considered among the safest Republican strongholds in the state, faces a long-shot opponent who has out-raised him for the campaign.

If campaign cash is a signal of political enthusiasm, California’s beleaguered congressional Republicans are a dour-looking bunch these days.

Already outnumbered 39-14 in the state delegation, GOP House incumbents are finding it harder than ever to raise re-election money in a strong Democratic state that’s trending even bluer.

Of the 10 Republicans targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in this year’s midterm elections, five of the GOP incumbents raised less money than their Democratic opponents in the final quarter of 2017 and two others abruptly announced their retirements rather than face an uncertain re-election.

In a sign of the breadth of the Republican cash crunch — and the extent of Democratic optimism — incumbents in two of the GOP’s safest seats, Rep. Doug LaMalfa of Richvale (Butte County) and Rep. Paul Cook of Yucca Valley (San Bernardino County), found themselves out-raised by little-known opponents with only a long-shot chance of winning in November.

“Historically, Republicans always win the fundraising battle,” said Drew Godinich, a spokesman for the Democratic committee. “The fact that (Democrats) have been able to out-raise them” shows how strong the challengers are.

But there’s nearly nine long months before the Nov. 6 general election, a fact Republicans are quick to point out.

Pundits eager to write off Republicans in November need to take a step back and look at the entire picture, said Jack Pandol, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“Democrats aren’t talking about the massive primary costs their candidates face,” he said. Even before those Democrats have a likely one-on-one faceoff with a GOP incumbent in November, “they will have an incredibly brutal and expensive primary.”

About 70 Democrats already have filed to run against Republican incumbents in 2018, more than the total who ran in those GOP districts between 2012 and 2016, according to figures compiled by the nonpartisan California Target Book, which studies congressional and legislative races across the state.

Many of those districts feature two or more well-funded Democrats who will be struggling to be one of the two top finishers in the June 5 primary and advance to the November election.

In the 49th Congressional District now represented by retiring Rep. Darrell Issa of Vista (San Diego County), Cody Peterson, the campaign manager for Democratic challenger Doug Applegate, estimated in November that the various campaigns in the district could spend as much as $8 million in the primary alone.

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