The Redlands Daily Facts ^ | June 17, 2017 | Jeff Horseman, The Press-Enterprise
To talk about the 2018 elections is to hear of a possible Donald Trump backlash carrying Democrats to a House of Representatives majority.
While Democrats hope that blue wave washes over Republican districts in Orange County, it’s not yet forecast to reach the Inland Empire, even though the traditionally Republican region has turned purple.
“In a remote scenario, we’d have to be talking about a tsunami,” said David Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, which studies and handicaps congressional races.
With Trump’s popularity at record lows and the party outside the White House typically gaining seats in mid-term elections, Democrats are hopeful they can pick up the 24 seats they need to command the House.
A launching pad toward that goal is Orange County, where four GOP incumbents — Darrell Issa of Vista, Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa, Ed Royce of Fullerton and Mimi Walters of Irvine — represent districts carried by Hillary Clinton in November as she became the first Democrat to win OC since Franklin Roosevelt.
“They are swimming in shark-filled waters with lifejackets made of roast beef,” said Jack Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College.
The county, which has gotten more diverse in recent years, has lots of college-educated, upper-income Republicans who tend to be less supportive of Trump than working-class whites. Trump’s win gave rise to the grassroots “Indivisible” movement, and House members in safe GOP districts have faced angry crowds at town halls.
Swing Left, which seeks to help Democrats win the House, has identified 64 swing districts nationwide, including those in OC. In May, POLITICO reported that for the first time, the western regional office of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee moved from Washington, D.C., to Irvine.
The Cook report and other political prognosticators have the OC districts on their 2018 watch lists. But right now, they expect Republicans Ken Calvert of Corona and Paul Cook of Yucca Valley to win re-election.
California’s 50th congressional district, which includes most of Temecula and is represented by Alpine Republican Duncan Hunter, also is seen as likely to stay red. But with Hunter facing a criminal probe into his campaign finances, the DCCC put him on its 2018 target list.
‘IN GOOD SHAPE’
At first glance, the Inland Empire would seem swing-worthy. Democratic voters outnumber Republicans in Riverside County, where Democrats have won several competitive races since 2012.
Clinton won Riverside and San Bernardino counties, but Trump beat Clinton by 12 percentage points in Calvert’s 42nd Congressional District. A congressman for more than 20 years, Calvert, who had almost $652,000 in campaign cash as of March, represents a district with GOP strongholds in Murrieta and Temecula.
“Although he had some close calls earlier in his career, Calvert should be in good shape for 2018,” Pitney said.
“Nobody is absolutely unbeatable, of course. A catastrophic downturn in the economy would hurt all GOP incumbents. But it would take something very big to put (Calvert’s) district into play.”
Redistricting in 2011 helped Calvert by moving Democrat-friendly Riverside into a district represented by Democrat Mark Takano, Wasserman said.
“The Democratic vote in Calvert’s district depends heavily on Latinos,” he added. “Latinos simply don’t turn out at high rates in mid-term elections.”
Obama and Clinton fared about the same in Calvert’s district, suggesting “it isn’t an area that actually moved all that much toward Democrats in 2016, unlike some other parts of California,” said Geoffrey Skelley, associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, another political forecaster.
Other California districts are more attractive for Democrats, said Skelley and Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of Inside Elections.
“Both parties love to talk about challenging in districts everywhere, but once the reality of limited resources sets in, strategists must look for the most critical races to invest time and money,” Gonzales said.
“Calvert’s district could become more competitive in the years ahead,” Gonzales said. “But Democrats are focused on at least a half-dozen GOP incumbents in more favorable districts before focusing on longer-shot opportunities.”
In an emailed statement, Calvert said: “I don’t spend much time worrying about how competitive my next election is going to be. I just do what I’ve always promised I’d do — grow our economy and create jobs, fix our roads and highways, keep Americans safe, and improve our broken health care and immigration systems. Those will continue to be my priorities regardless of how next year’s election shapes up.
“On the other hand, we’re seeing that Democrats here in California and in Congress are on an epic crusade to take hard-earned money from Americans and give government more control over our lives. Democrats are raising taxes on working class families who drive to work and take their kids to school. Democrats want to impose massive taxes to force Californians onto government-run healthcare whether they like it or not.”
On the Republican side, Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-La Quinta, is on the National Republican Congressional Committee’s 2018 target list. But unlike 2014, Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Redlands, is not.
The NRCC appears to be targeting districts where the Democratic voter registration advantage is less than 10 percent, said Rob Pyers of the California Target Book. “From a practical standpoint, though, it’s difficult to envision any of the districts on the NRCC’s wish list flipping,” he said.
‘CHANGE THE CONVERSATION’
Predictions of Calvert’s re-election aren’t deterring protesters who visit his Corona office and picket his events. Activists recently held an illuminated “Replace Ken Calvert” sign over the 91 Freeway.
Julia Peacock has spoken at Calvert protests. A Democrat from a community outside Corona who teaches high school in Perris, she is running against Calvert next year.
The November election “kind of changed the idea of what politics look like — look at the Indivisible marches … people have turned from voters into activists,” Peacock said. “I think that’s really done a lot to change the conversation that we’re having about districts being so red we can’t do anything about them.”
Trump’s unpopularity and voter disapproval of Republican health care legislation stands to turn disgruntled Republicans and independent voters against the GOP, Peacock added.
At this point, the Inland swing districts appear to be at the state Assembly level.
In California’s 40th Assembly District, which covers part of San Bernardino County, Rancho Cucamonga Republican Marc Steinorth beat a well-funded Democrat last November by fewer than 2,000 votes.
There’s also the 60th Assembly District in northwest Riverside County, where Democrat Sabrina Cervantes of Riverside will run for re-election for the first time next year. Having beaten a Republican incumbent in 2016, Cervantes could be targeted for her swing vote in favor of a transportation bill that raises California’s gas tax by 12 cents a gallon.
“If the (Republican) focus turns to flipping two Assembly seats to reverse the (Democratic) supermajority, Cervantes will almost certainly be at the top of any target list,” Pyers said.