BY BEN GOAD
Published: 22 May 2012 06:56 PM
A high-stakes showdown with national implications is brewing in the San Bernardino Valley, where six candidates are vying to represent California’s newly drawn 31st Congressional District.
No House race in the country on the regular 2012 election schedule has attracted more outside spending than the 31st, which stretches from Redlands to Rancho Cucamonga and includes San Bernardino, Loma Linda, Grand Terrace, Colton and parts of Fontana and Rialto. Special interests have pumped more than $900,000 into the race.
Democratic Party leaders in Washington see the seat as key in their quest to win back control of the House, and Republicans say they are resolved to stop them.
“It’s a must-win for Democrats,” said David Wasserman, an analyst specializing in House races for the Cook Political Report. “It’s not as critical a hold for Republicans, but they’d like to keep it.”
Two Republicans are running for the seat: Rep. Gary Miller, R-Diamond Bar, and state Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga. On the Democratic side, there are four candidates: Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, Loma Linda attorney Justin Kim, nonprofit founder Renea Wickman and retired educator Rita Ramirez-Dean.
Under California’s new primary system, the top two vote-getters will advance past the June 5 primary, regardless of their party affiliation.
Reps. Joe Baca and Jerry Lewis, who together have represented the San Bernardino Valley for more than a decade, both reside in the 31st district. But neither is running for re-election there.
After California’s redistricting commission drew new political lines last summer, Baca, D-Rialto, opted to run in the adjacent and more solidly Democratic 35th district. In January, Lewis, R-Redlands, announced plans to step away from politics at the end of the year.
Lewis’ departure created an opening for Miller, whose home district had been redrawn. He quickly jumped into the race, saying he planned to move to Rancho Cucamonga anyway.
Dutton, who will be termed out of the state Senate, also announced a bid for the seat, creating an intra-GOP tussle. Dutton has the advantage of living in the district, and voters there are used to seeing his name on the ballot.
Miller, meanwhile, has a large fundraising advantage and won endorsements from both the National Republican Congressional Committee and the state Republican Party, thanks in part to his status as an incumbent.
Both candidates have also received support from Super-PACs and other outside groups that have injected large sums of money into the race. While state and federal law sets limits on contributions to candidates, Super-PACs are allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts through independent expenditures.
The National Realtors Association has spent more than $700,000 on TV ads, polling, consulting and other services in support of Miller through its congressional fund and political action committee. A Super-PAC known as Inland Taxpayers for Jobs has spent more than $50,000 in support of Dutton.
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