Democrats Go All-Out to Avoid Disaster in California House Races


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IRVINE, Calif. — Nationwide Democrats, confronting mushrooming political chaos throughout Southern California, are pouring thousands and thousands of into congressional races to avert a self-inflicted catastrophe that might undermine their possibilities at taking management of the Home.

After months of optimism that the state’s June 5 major would place them to choose off seven Republican-held districts in November — a considerable down cost on reclaiming the Home — Democrats are actually making an attempt to make sure that they don’t damage themselves due to their unusually crowded slates of candidates.

With so many Democrats operating, the occasion’s concern is that the vote can be splintered, permitting Republicans — who’ve fewer candidates — to dominate some primaries. The occasion and allied teams are spending greater than $four million on simply three campaigns, intervening in a single contest to prop up a popular candidate; attacking a Republican from the appropriate in one other; and even reminding individuals to not waste their votes on “ghost candidates” who’ve dropped out but stay on the poll.

As any progressive activist will clarify via gnashed enamel, the head-snapping scramble is due to the state’s “prime two” open major system, which permits the 2 main vote-getters — no matter political events — to advance to the overall election.

The “prime two” system was meant to create incentives for political moderation in a state the place a few quarter of the voters are independents, nevertheless it has created immense stakes for Democrats: They should win 23 seats to take again the Home, and occasion officers consider the trail runs via the seven aggressive California districts, all of which Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.

[Read more on how the “top two” system works.]

“It’s a disaster,” Gail Reisman, a retired gerontologist and Toronto native who lives in Representative Dana Rohrabacher’s district, said after attending a candidate forum Tuesday. “If we have two Republicans running I think I’m going back to Canada.”

After three of the Democrats opposing Mr. Rohrabacher had taken a turn speaking at the forum, held at a synagogue, the moderator briefly came back on stage to alert the audience that the parking lot was so crowded the police intended to ticket those cars parked more creatively than legally.

The overflow of Priuses and Mercedes was a particularly vivid reminder of the California candidate logjam. Confusion and frustration among Democrats here only seems to grow by the day, as the state and national party back different contenders and spending sprays forth like an out-of-control garden hose. Some voters are not sure who to back to feel confident that a Democrat will advance past June 5, and they increasingly worry that Republicans will foil the party’s chances to stop President Trump’s agenda in the House next year.

The painful twist is that what seemed like the Democrats’ most valuable asset in the midterm campaign — the wave of liberal activism unleashed by President Trump — has metastasized into a mortal threat because of the glut of candidates.

Nowhere is the danger more acute than in a pair of contiguous districts that stretch from Orange County’s Seal Beach down the Pacific coastline to the cliffs of La Jolla.

It is here where national Democrats, deeply concerned their voters are scattered among little-known House candidates, are staging a rescue mission to ensure they are not locked out this fall in Mr. Rohrabacher’s district and the one farther south held by Representative Darrell Issa, a Republican who is retiring.

Opposition research and hard-edge direct mail pieces are flying between candidates, too, some of them tinged with accusations of #metoo impropriety. But surveys show many of the candidates bunched together in the teens and few operatives have a firm grasp for what will unfold.

Actual policy issues are largely secondary: The differences between the Democratic hopefuls are a matter of degree, with all of them vowing a progressive agenda on health care, the environment and gun control while taking aim at Mr. Trump. The Republicans are focused on gains in the economy, a gas tax repeal measure and warning the largely moderate and center-right voters in the districts that Democrats are turning sharply to the left.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party’s arm in House races, is most concerned that two Republicans might prevail in the primary for Mr. Rohrabacher’s seat. The committee has broken with the state Democratic Party to endorse a candidate, Harley Rouda.

Meanwhile, the main House Democratic “super PAC” is pouring over $600,000 into commercials in the Los Angeles market, which reaches 27 congressional districts, to try to drive down Republican candidate Scott Baugh’s share of the vote against Mr. Rohrabacher, in hopes that a Democrat can finish in the top two and face the incumbent in November.

“It’s much easier for people to believe that it’s some man, my grandfather, behind the scenes pulling strings than me because of my gender,” she said.

Many California Republicans also believe the open primary law, which was adopted in a 2010 referendum, has proved to be a political science experiment gone terribly awry.

“I hate the top-two,” said Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader and California’s most prominent Republican.

In the tradition of many reforms enacted by voters in the state that helped pioneer direct democracy, the move to do away with partisan primaries has triggered a host of unforeseen consequences.

“It has created mass confusion,” said Dave Gilliard, a longtime Republican strategist here. “And the people who have been empowered are not people from the districts. It has really just increased the power of outside forces.”

It is, however, the people from the districts who are the most frustrated.

When one of the lagging Democrats, Omar Siddiqui, took his turn on the microphone at the candidate forum, applause filled the synagogue when he was asked if he would consider dropping out.

And when Mr. Siddiqui defended himself by citing an internal campaign poll, in which he said he would gain support once voters learned more about him, one woman in the audience warned against Democratic wishful thinking.

“In one week?” she yelled out.

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