By Jean Merl contact
October 4, 2014

Both major political parties and groups of their deep-pocketed supporters are playing big in the handful of fiercely fought congressional races in California this year.

With Republicans widely expected to keep — even add to — their House majority in November, the interest from national groups appears to be all about future elections. The parties are positioning themselves for 2016, when the nation will next elect a president and when the political climate could be very different, and even beyond to 2018, experts said.

“Republicans want a cushion against the risk of future losses,” said John J. “Jack” Pitney Jr., a Claremont McKenna College political scientist and former GOP official. “Democrats want to limit GOP gains this year so that they will be in a better starting position for when their prospects are brighter.”

As a result, tough battles have developed in half a dozen districts. In four of those, Democrats, buoyed by strong turnout for President Obama, wrested the seats from Republicans in 2012.

Another is in the Central Valley, where Democrats hope Amanda Renteria, a local native who has worked in Washington, can dislodge Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford) from the seat he won that year.

The other is in the Inland Empire, where the parties are fighting it out over who will succeed retiring Rep. Gary Miller (R-Rancho Cucamonga) in a Democrat-tilting district.

The closest contests are widely believed to be those involving three first-term Democrats.

In Northern California, Rep. Ami Bera of Elk Grove faces former Republican Rep. Doug Ose of Sacramento.

In Southern California, Republicans recruited Assemblyman Jeff Gorell of Camarillo to take on Rep. Julia Brownley of Westlake Village, and former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio, seen by some as a rising GOP star, is challenging Rep. Scott Peters of San Diego.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report labels each of the three contests a toss-up. Cook gives a slight edge to the fourth Democratic freshman, Rep. Raul Ruiz of Palm Desert, opposed by GOP Assemblyman Brian Nestande, also of Palm Desert, but concludes the Central Valley district probably will stay in the Republican column.

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