Why are so many California Democrats donating to a Republican?

In California, Democrat dollars back a Republican

Published June 5, 2018 1:52PM (EDT)


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Californians head to the polls Tuesday, June 5, and to turn more seats blue, Democrats and their campaign machines are pulling out all the stops.

The Golden State has an unusual primary system; the top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, make it on the ballot in November. That makes for all sorts of guerrilla warfare.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in a bold move to try to split the Republican vote for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s (R-Calif.) 48th Congressional seat in Orange County, has spent about $110,000 in the last week to bolster candidate John Gabbard (R), according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The committee, the official campaign arm for Democrats in Congress, paid for robocalls and radio ads supporting Gabbard, who lags behind frontrunners Rohrbacher and California state legislator Scott Baugh.

Unlike countless other key congressional races across the country, Russia and the swirl of news regarding Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation is uniquely relevant to Rohrbacher’s re-election bid. The 30-year congressional veteran is a persistent advocate of closer relations with Moscow. It’s position that has derisively earned him the moniker “Putin’s favorite congressman” and tied him into the daily trickle of news on possible collusion in the 2016 election.

The Democrats seem to be having some issues on their own ticket. The committee’s candidate is real-estate executive Harley Rouda, who has a war chest of close to $2 million, according to Federal Election Commission data — more than Rohrbacher at just under $1.6 million. National liberals also back Rouda. But the California Democratic Party has endorsed Hans Keirstead, a stem cell researcher and neuroscientist. He had slightly outraised Rohrbacher at $1.63 million.

Baugh’s communications director, Matthew Cunningham, said he doesn’t think the committee’s last-minute spending will be enough to keep the Republican off the ticket. “The Democrats are saying and doing anything they can to knock (Baugh) out of No. 2,” Cunningham told the Center for Responsive Politics. “Republicans are turning out in the 48th, and we’re confident of taking the No. 2 spot on June 5.” Baugh had only raised $591,853, according to the FEC.

The primaries to date have proven that money doesn’t guarantee a win. But Baugh’s team may be underestimating the might of the committee and its “Red to Blue” campaign backing candidates across the country with organizational and fundraising efforts to flip seats in November.

Ballotpedia has been tracking the primaries where the committee has endorsed candidates and out of 9 races where the data is available, eight of the candidate backed by the committee have won. The only instance a non-committee candidate won was in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District on May 15. In that race, candidate Kara Eastman (D) won the primary and will be on the ballot in November.

Big eight primary preview

This Tuesday, eight states hold primaries for the mid-term elections. Here’s a snapshot of what to watch for in each state.

Alabama: Keep an eye on the Alabama attorney general race. Three candidates are vying for the full term to fill incumbent Steve Marshall’s (R) spot, who was appointed in February 2017, when then-State Attorney General Luther Strange (R) was tapped to fill the seat for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R). Three candidates to keep an eye on are Chess Bedsole, Troy King and Alice Martin.

California: The Golden State’s jungle primary system, which sends the top two candidates to the November election regardless of party, makes for a most interesting spectacle.

Incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is seeking her sixth term, despite not getting an endorsement from the California Democratic Party. Her top challenger is Kevin de León (D). The Republican field has a wide range of candidates and white nationalist Patrick Little (R), who was expelled from the Republican convention, managed to poll in second place to Feinstein in April, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

One of the hottest primaries to watch is the 25th Congressional District. Incumbent Rep. Steve Knight (R) is the only Republican in the race, which means a Democrat will automatically get on the ticket in November. Bryan Caforio (D) came within six points of defeating Knight two years ago, and he’s running again. Another top candidate is nonprofit executive Katie Hill (D). Hillary Clinton carried the district in 2016.

Iowa: Republicans currently control pretty much all power in the state and the midterms represent a chance to change that. The gubernatorial race is one to watch as five Democrats hope to unseat incumbent Gov. Kim Reynolds (R).

Democrats are hoping to flip the 3rd Congressional District held by incumbent Rep. David Young (R), and the Fourth Congressional District, which is held by Rep. Steve King (R).

Montana: Keep an eye on the Republican primary for the Senate seat held by incumbent Jon Tester (D-Mont.), which is considered vulnerable after Trump carried the state by 20 points in 2016. Four Republicans hoping to challenge Tester are State Auditor Matt Rosendale, former state judge Russ Fagg, businessman Troy Downing and state Sen. Albert Olszewski.

Mississippi: The race to watch in this state is for the 3rd Congressional District. Incumbent Rep. Gregg Harper decided against running for re-election in this firmly red district. Six candidates are now circling his seat with state Sen. Sally Doty (R) and district attorney Michael Guest (R) leading the pack.

New Jersey: The Garden State could be critical for Democrats to take back the House this fall. Races to watch include districts 2 (both Democratic and Republican primaries), 7 and 11. On the Senate side, incumbent Sen. Bob Menendez (D), whose corruption case ended in a mistrial last fall, is running again but challenged by activist Lisa McCormick (D) and two GOP candidates, former biotech executive Bob Hugin (R) and businessman Brian D. Goldberg (R).

New Mexico: The race to watch in this state is for Congressional District 1. Incumbent Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) is running for governor, leaving the seat open for a field of seven Democratic candidates, one Republican, one Libertarian and an Independent. Frontrunners include Antoinette Sedillo Lopez (D), Debra Haaland (D) and Damon Martinez (D).

South Dakota: The race for Governor is an open seat with incumbent Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) unable to run due to term limits. Four-time Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) is leaving the state’s one Congressional seat to run for governor. She’ll face challengers state Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) and Democrat Billie Sutton, the state Senate’s minority leader.

Vying for Noem’s open Congressional seat are three Republicans, Dusty Johnson, Shantel Krebs and Neal Tapio, and one Democrat, Tim Bjorkman.

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By Jillian S. Ambroz

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