Monday, August 25, 2014

CA-16: The safe district that might not be safe

Congressional races rated are rated safe by the prognosticators because there’s no chance they’ll flip. I’m going to talk about a district they all rate as safe but there is a chance it’ll flip. No, I don’t think the Republican should be favored or that it’s a toss-up. I’m saying there’s a chance.

The district is CA-16. It has a D+8 PVI and the incumbent Jim Costa won it by 15% in 2012. He’s up against Johnny Tacherra, an opponent who hasn’t raised a lot of money and is mostly unknown. Tacherra has an internal poll out that shows him ahead. Now it’s an internal poll, something campaigns put out to show a contest is closer than people think. Usually though, the challenger produces a poll that shows them within 5-8, not ahead. Again, I’m not saying he’s ahead, only that I’m not shocked that this is the safe race where a challenger produces such a poll.

Here’s why:

The June primary produced a surprising result, the Republican candidates beat the Democratic ones by 3.2%. CA-7 and CA-36 are both expected to be competitive, but the Republicans in these two districts won by 4.3% and lost by 0.6%. Those primaries had Republicans spending a lot more money than this one did. While Democrats did better in most congressional primaries in 2014 than they did in 2012, it was the reverse in CA-16. Democrats won that one by 4.6%.

What produced this unusual result, where the Republicans skated to more votes, even though Jim Costa spent about 30% more than all Republicans combined? The Republican GOTV operation was extraordinary because of the candidates up ticket. This was specifically Fresno mayor Ashley Swearingen, who is running for controller. CA-16 covers three counties, Fresno, Madera, and Merced. Swearingen got 52% in Fresno county, 54% in Madera county, and 46% in Merced county. And she had to split the Republican vote with David Evans. Overall, Republicans beat Democrats by 65%-32% in Fresno, 71%-26% in Madera, and 61%-35% in Merced. Clearly Republicans were turning out for Swearingen.

Swearingen will face Betty Yee in the controller race in 2014. Yee has raised less money and has cash on hand than Swearingen. So while Swearingen can be expected to get out the vote in the Central Valley, Yee is far more likely to concentrate on her home territory in he Bay area.

The governor’s race is at the top of the ticket. It’s expected to be a one-sided affair and Jerry Brown hasn’t shown a willingness to spend much money. The latest Field poll has him winning the Central Valley by 2%. Considering how unpopular his bullet train is in the Central Valley, that’s not surprising. The other statewide races are also expected to be one-sided. Democrats are unlikely to try to win votes in the Central Valley as a result.

Most of CA-16 is in SD-12. It’s on the ballot this fall. Even though Barack Obama won this district by a decent margin, Democrats have pretty much punted it. Republican incumbent Anthony Cannella won by a surprising 64%-36% in the primary. As of June 30, Cannella had $975,627 cash on hand. The Democrat had $7,793. That’s 125 times more. This is Cannella’s last senate campaign. So he’ll spend his money.

The Republican party in CA-16 will do a big GOTV operation. Swearingen and Cannella will have their faces on the top. Just under them will be Johnny Tacherra. It’s possible they’ll drag him to victory due to the R next to his name, just as they did during the primary.

Of course, I’m not saying I think that’s what’ll happen, only that this district might not be the non-competitive district the prognosticators

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