Thursday, November 8, 2012

2012 Election: Obama's Coattails in California Congressional Races

President Obama had long “coattails” in California in the 2012 presidential election.  If current trends in the state’s 53 congressional races hold, California will send 38 Democrats and 15 Republicans to the U.S. House of Representatives when the 113th Congress convenes next January.  This will be a net gain of four seats for the Democrats in the California House delegation.

Nearly 72 percent of California U.S. House members will be Democrats in the 113th Congress – the highest percentage in more than 70 years.  The most recent Congress that had a higher percentage of Democrats in the California delegation was the 75th Congress (1937-39).  Back then California had just twenty House members, composed of fifteen Democrats, one Progressive and four Republicans.  Democrats comprised 75 percent of that delegation (80 percent if the Progressive is included as he caucused with the Democrats).  Those congressmen were elected with the Franklin Roosevelt/New Deal re-election landslide of 1936, when F.D.R. won all 58 California counties.

Since the Civil War (1861-65), just three Congresses have had higher shares of Democrats in the California House delegation than in the upcoming 113th Congress: (1) 44th Congress (1875-77), 75% Democratic; (2) 48th Congress (1883-85), 100% Democratic; (3) 75th Congress (1937-39), 75 or 80% Democratic.

The Democrats’ net gain of four House seats in California is a big change from 2008 when none of the Golden State’s 53 congressional districts turned over from one political party to another.  Except in 1940 and 2008, at least one California Democrat has won a Republican-held House seat in every presidential election won by a Democrat since 1892.  Click here for CalPolitiCal’s analysis of the 2008 congressional elections in California.

California House districts in the 2000’s were pro-incumbent party gerrymanders, purposely designed to entrench each party’s members.  The only House seat to switch parties in the entire decade was the old 11th Congressional District, where Democrat Jerry McNerney (D-Pleasanton) defeated seven-term Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Tracy).  That was a Republican-leaning district; it narrowly re-elected Rep. McNerney in 2010 despite backing Republicans Meg Whitman for governor and Carly Fiorina for U.S. Senate.  The competitive districts in 2012 exist because California voters created the Citizens Redistricting Commission via Proposition 11 in 2008 and Proposition 20 in 2010.  (The California Democratic Party and the California Republican Party strongly opposed Propositions 11 and 20.)

The 38 Democrats of the California House delegation will set another record next January.  They will comprise the largest partisan delegation of any state in any Congress in American history.  This breaks the record set by the Pennsylvania House delegation in the 69th Congress (1925-27), composed of 36 Republicans elected by Keystone State voters in the Calvin Coolidge landslide of 1924.  [Pennsylvania again had 36 Republican House members during a portion of the 71st Congress (1929-31), from June 4, 1929 until March 4, 1931.]

It is impossible for any other state to break California’s record at the present time.  The 36 House members elected by Texas comprise the second-largest House delegation.  Even if all Texas congressional districts elected a Republican (or, perhaps impossibly, a Democrat), the 36 Democrats or Republicans would still fall two short of California’s record.  Just two U.S. states have had more than 36 members in their House delegations – California from 1963 to present and New York from 1903 to 1983.

The largest partisan delegation that New York elected to the U.S. House was the 33 Republicans elected to the 67th Congress (1921-23) (followed by 32 Jacksonians in 1832 and 32 Whigs elected in 1848), according to Professor Kenneth Martis' Historical Atlas of United States Congressional Districts.  Although the Empire State had up to 45 House members, neither the Republicans nor Democrats dominated the congressional delegation because of Democratic strength in New York City and Republican voting proclivities Upstate.  The California House Democrats matched New York's record in 2002, when the Golden State elected 33 House Democrats.   Now, in 2012, Pennsylvania's record has fallen.

Assuming that Democrats win 200 seats in the House and 38 Democrats are elected from California in 2012, then the California Democrats will comprise nearly one in every five House Democrats (19 percent).  Assuming that Republicans win 235 House seats, then the fifteen House Republicans will comprise a mere six percent of the entire House Republican Conference.

The last time that California House Republicans were fewer than fifteen was in the 95th Congress (1977-79).  There were a mere fourteen Republicans in the 43-member California House delegation.  

When the 113th Congress convenes in January 2013, the Texas (24 out of 36) and Florida (17 out of 27) delegations will contain more House Republicans than California (15 out of 53).  Other states with 10 or more House Republicans will include Pennsylvania (13 out of 18) and Ohio (12 out of 16).  Those four states (Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio) elected a total of 66 Republicans and 31 Democrats in November 2012.

From 2007 to 2013, the California House delegation consisted of 34 Democrats and 19 Republicans.  Redistricting following the 2010 Census of Population has shifted congressional district boundaries, beginning with the 2012 congressional election.  If current election returns hold, five seats in California effectively will have changed from one party to another; a Republican will have won a Democratic seat and five Democrats will have won Republican seats. 

The "turnovers" (seats shifting from one party to another) are as follows:

21st Congressional District:  Assemblyman David Valadao (R) has won a San Joaquin Valley seat now held more-or-less by Congressman Jim Costa (D).  Costa ran for re-election in a district that includes territory held by retiring Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Atwater, Merced County).  Rep.-elect Valadao (R) effectively is taking the seat of Rep. Cardoza (D).  (Voter registration as of Oct. 22nd: 47% Dem., 33% Rep., 16% Decline-to-State.)

7th Congressional District:  Democrat Ami Bera is leading in the suburban Sacramento County House seat, defeating longtime Republican Rep. Dan Lungren. (Voter registration as of Oct. 22nd: 39% Dem., 38% Rep., 19% Decline-to-State.)

26th Congressional District: Democrat Julia Brownley has won the Ventura County-based House seat that has been occupied by Simi Valley Republican Elton Gallegly since 1987.  Ms. Brownley defeated Republican state Sen. Tony Strickland, a protege of conservative Rep. Tom McClintock.  She is the first Democrat to represent the bulk of Ventura County since Rep. George Outland (D-Santa Barbara) held the Central Coast congressional seat from 1943-47.  (Voter registration as of Oct. 22nd: 40% Dem., 35% Rep., 20% Decline-to-State.)

Ventura is a quintessential presidential bellwether county, siding with the national electoral vote winner in 23 of the past 24 elections. The exception was 1976, when Ventura County favored President Gerald Ford over Gov. Jimmy Carter.

All 808 miles of U.S. 101 highway in California, from the Oregon border to downtown Los Angeles, will represented by a Democratic member of Congress next January, as a consequence of Ms. Brownley's victory.  (U.S. 101 now traverses fourteen congressional districts.)  The last time that the entire California coast from Oregon to Los Angeles elected Democrats to Congress was 130 years ago in 1882/3 when U.S. 101 was a dirt road called "El Camino Real" and automobiles did not exist.

In contrast, forty years ago, a drive the length of U.S. 101 in California was overwhelmingly in Republican congressional districts.  In 1972, a drive up U.S. 101 from its southern terminus near downtown Los Angeles to Oregon crossed Democratic congressional districts just within the city of Los Angeles, in the Morgan Hill, San Jose and Santa Clara section of Santa Clara County and in eastern San Francisco.  All of Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, San Benito, San Mateo, Marin, Sonoma, Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties were represented by Republican House members.  Once a motorist on U.S. 101 left the Hollywood hills [26th District, seat held by Rep. Tom Rees (D-Los Angeles)], the next Democratic congressional district was crossed nearly 350 miles north in Morgan Hill [9th District, seat held by Rep. Don Edwards (D-San Jose)], a few miles south of San Jose.  Another 350 miles on U.S. 101, from central San Francisco, across the Golden Gate Bridge, through the "Redwood Empire," to the Oregon border also was through Republican congressional districts in 1972.

36th Congressional District: Democrat Raul Ruiz is leading over Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack in the eastern Riverside County House seat.  Mrs. Bono Mack is most famous as the widow of singer/Rep. Sonny Bono.  She won her late husband’s House seat in 1998 after Mr. Bono died in a skiing accident. (Voter registration as of Oct. 22nd: 39% Dem., 39% Rep., 17% Decline-to-State.)

The last House Democrat who represented eastern Riverside County (Palm Springs out to Indio and Blythe) was Rep. John V. Tunney (D-Riverside), who represented the entire county from 1965 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 1970.  Rep. Alfred McCandless (R-Bermuda Dunes) held the Riverside County-centered congressional district from 1983 to 1995.  In 1992, Rep. McCandless ran in the new eastern Riverside County district.  Reps. Sonny Bono and Mary Bono Mack followed him.  It was once very conservative territory; President Ronald Reagan won 65.1% of the vote in 1984 in Rep. McCandless's district.

41st Congressional District:  Democrat Mark Takano defeated Republican John Tavaglione in a new Riverside County House seat, centered on the cities of Riverside and Moreno Valley.  This is Mr. Takano’s third attempt to run for Congress in this area; apparently the “third time is a charm” for him.  (Voter registration as of Oct. 22nd: 42% Dem., 37% Rep., 16% Decline-to-State.)

When a new House seat was carved out of western Riverside County in 1992, Mr. Takano came close to winning.  The winner of that contest was Republican Ken Calvert.  Takano challenged Rep. Calvert in 1994, but lost by a wide margin in the national Republican/Gov. Pete Wilson landslide.  In 2008, Democrat Bill Hedrick came surprisingly close to defeating Rep. Calvert, an outcome that virtually no national political observer foresaw. 

Growth in the Inland Empire has resulted in creation of the new 41st District; Rep. Calvert won re-election in 2012 in the 42nd District.  The new House seat in Riverside County is more-or-less the functional replacement (via the game of “redistricting musical chairs”) of the Los Angeles/San Bernardino County House seat now occupied by retiring Republican Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas).

The last House Democrat who represented the city of Riverside was Rep. George Brown (D-San Bernardino County), whose district included a small portion of Riverside County from 1973 to 1993.

52nd Congressional District:   Democrat Scott Peters narrowly won the San Diego County district where Rep. Brian Bilbray (R) stood for re-election.  This district covers northern San Diego, Poway, much of coastal San Diego, the bulk of the San Diego central business district and Coronado. (Voter registration as of Oct. 22nd: 33% Dem., 34% Rep., 28% Decline-to-State.)

Rep. Bilbray previously represented a different San Diego County district from 1995 to 2001; now-Rep. Susan Davis (D-San Diego) defeated Bilbray in that district in 2000.  This was Republican Rep. "Duke" Cunningham's district, more-or-less, until his resignation from Congress in 2005 after he pled guilty to numerous federal criminal charges.  Mr. Bilbray won Cunningham's vacant seat; Democrat Francine Busby attempted to oust him in 2006 and 2010.

The five Republican-to-Democrat turnovers are offset by the single Republican-to-Democrat turnover, resulting in a net gain of four Democratic House seats in California in 2012.

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