Paul Chabot+Pete Aguilar

31st Congressional District candidates D-Pete Aguilar (left) and R-Paul Chabot (right) shake hands at center stage prior to a debate on October 20, 2014 in Memorial Chapel on the University of Redlands campus. (Staff file photo by Will Lester)

By Beau Yarbrough, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Posted: 07/08/15, 3:26 PM PDT |

Nothing will be decided until Nov. 8, 2016, but Election 2016 is already underway in the 31st Congressional District.

Republican Paul Chabot, who lost to Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Rancho Cucamonga, in 2014, has repeatedly announced his intention to seek a rematch next year.

“I’m afraid that continuous campaigning has finally hit San Bernardino County,” Marcia Godwin, associate professor of public administration at the University of La Verne, wrote in an email. “Aguilar never stopped running after his loss in 2012 and Chabot is following the same strategy after losing the general election in 2014.”

Aguilar lost his bid in the June 5, 2012 open primary, coming in third behind Republicans Gary Miller and Robert Dutton with 22.6 percent of the vote.

Chabot has blamed the wide disparity in campaign funds for his loss in 2014 to Aguilar, along with a lack of support from the National Republican Congressional Committee.

According to the California Secretary of State, Aguilar beat Chabot 51.7 to 48.3 percent, a margin of 3,460 votes.

The financial gap was much wider, though. According to the Federal Election Commission, Aguilar both raised and spent $2.2 million in campaign funds in 2014. During the same period, Chabot raised $523,036 and spent $522,741.

“Money was definitely a part of it, but we only needed that kind of money to fight back against very negative campaigning,” Chabot said. “Money is only important in a race like this if you have to fight back against dishonest campaign tactics. … They know they can’t win without lying and trying to trick the voters.”

Chabot said the NRCC now “fully supports” his 2016 campaign.

“He has a deplorable record in Congress. He’s about 96 percent with Nancy Pelosi,” Chabot said of Aguilar. “He had no record of accomplishment as mayor and he has no record of accomplishment as congressman.”

Getting a head start on 2016 could help with that problem, according to Claremont McKenna College political science professor Jack Pitney.

“It is never too early to start running in a potentially competitive district, if only because time equals money,” Pitney said, via email. “Incumbents are always running. It’s also common for challengers who lost by unexpectedly narrow margins to try again.”

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