Could the GOP lose another safe congressional seat?

It's been a rough year for Republican congressional candidates already, and now there are signs they're facing another big loss.

Published June 2, 2008 10:43PM (EDT)

It's been a rough spring for the GOP. Now it appears another safe Republican congressional seat may be up for grabs this November.

Republican incumbent Rep. John T. Doolittle has decided not to run again in California's 4th Congressional District, which stretches from the Sacramento suburbs to the Oregon border, because of a long-running FBI investigation into his ties with disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Doolittle has served 10 terms, and the district is one of the most conservative in the state -- even more so than the famous California Republican stronghold of Orange County, according to one political expert.

The race to replace Doolittle has already gotten wild. Neither of the two Republicans vying for the congressman's seat -- state Sen. Tom McClintock and former Sacramento Rep. Doug Ose -- yet lives in the 4th District. In fact, McClintock represents a state Senate district in Southern California. McClintock and Ose's primary battle has grown so nasty that the Los Angeles Times wrote that it has a "hint of fratricide." McClintock has accused Ose of being a "Washington, D.C., liberal," while Ose has fired back that McClintock is a carpetbagger.

Republicans' woes are compounded by the fact that they will likely face a former Republican turned Democrat in the general election this fall. Charlie Brown (yes, that's his real name) is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who is running on a pro-gun, small government platform that should resonate with the Central Valley's conservative voters. Brown, who nearly unseated Doolittle in the 2006 general election, faces a relatively unknown candidate in the Democratic race for the congressional seat. Voters in both parties will cast ballots in primaries on Tuesday.

Despite the fact that 47 percent of the 4th District voters are Republicans and only 31 percent are Democrats, Barbara O'Connor, a professor of political science at California State University in Sacramento, told Salon that she gives Brown a "50-50" shot of taking the general election. She said the race was indicative of Republicans' struggles around the country and that its narrative would be familiar to most political junkies.

"[The race] is an interesting sort of microcosm of the themes that are playing out in the presidential election," O'Connor said.

Republicans have already lost three special elections in solidly red districts, including former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert's seat in Illinois and a Mississippi district where voters went for President Bush by a more than 60 percent margin in 2004. As if things weren't bad enough, in a hapless attempt at rebranding the party, officials cribbed the slogan of antidepressant Effexor.

And if Republicans do lose the 4th Congressional District, it almost certainly won't be their last significant loss. House Democrats have a 6-to-1 money advantage over Republicans. Meanwhile, the Cook Political Report predicts Democrats may grab as many as 10 extra congressional seats in November, when all 435 House seats are up for grabs. If that happens, Republicans may want to reach for the Effexor.

By Justin Jouvenal

Justin Jouvenal is an editorial fellow at Salon and a graduate student in journalism at New York University.

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