Political reforms translate into tight House races

By Michael R. Blood

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, May 8 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, which provides detailed analyses of legislative and congressional races, predicts that as many as eight districts could see pairings of candidates in November from the same party.

"Some of these old bulls are going to find themselves ... going against an alternative in their own party," he said.

Overall, those same-party showdowns are likely to underscore a familiar trend in the state — that Republicans have been growing scarce. Democrats hold a 2.2-million voter edge in California, and Republicans are in danger of slipping below 30 percent of total statewide registration.

Even more telling: As of April 6, independents outnumbered Republicans in 14 of the state's 53 congressional districts, state records show.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is expected to easily get through the June primary and will not face a well-known challenger in November. Some of the congressional primary races to watch include:

— In a swing district in the Central Valley, the 9th Congressional District, Ivy League-educated law student Ricky Gill has established himself as a newcomer to watch in the GOP. He turns 25 this month — the minimum age to serve in the U.S. House— and has snagged endorsements from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. Gill has raised more than $1.1 million, about equal to the amount raised by the Democratic incumbent, Rep. Jerry McNerney. National Republicans consider Gill one of their top hopes for defeating a Democratic incumbent this year.

— In Ventura County, Supervisor Linda Parks is trying to claim the 26th district seat running as an independent. The fastest growing political affiliation in California is "no party preference," and independents now comprise about 21 percent of the statewide electorate. They account for 19 percent of voters in her district. If elected, Parks would become the only independent in California's congressional delegation.

— The tightly divided 7th district in the Sacramento area appears headed for a rematch between Democrat Ami Bera and the incumbent, Republican Rep. Dan Lungren. In the first quarter of the year, Lungren cut into Bera's fundraising edge by collecting more than $500,000 for the campaign. But the challenger has raised more money than the incumbent, which is unusual. Bera has about $1.1 million in the bank, with nearly $900,000 for Lungren. Republicans hold a mere 202-vote edge in registration over Democrats in the district.

— Five candidates are on the ballot in the narrowly divided 10th Congressional District in central California, where Republican Rep. Jeff Denham is facing challenges from former space shuttle astronaut Jose Hernandez, a Democrat, and independent Chad Condit. He is the son of former Rep. Gary Condit, who was ousted when his relationship with a Washington intern emerged after her disappearance. The district includes the San Joaquin Valley, where the elder Condit held a variety of political posts before he was defeated in 2002 amid the disappearance of former U.S. Bureau of Prisons intern Chandra Levy. Another man eventually was convicted of Levy's murder, but Condit refused to answer questions about his relationship with her.

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