Now that Donald Trump has nearly completed his hostile takeover of the Republican Party, thoughtful leaders of the GOP are fretting about one thing only: keeping The Donald from dragging down their candidates and incumbents in House and Senate races.
And in deep blue California – where the “race-bating, xenophobic, religious bigot,” in Sen. Lindsey Graham’s words, is spectacularly unpopular (74% unfavorable in the most recent Field Poll and 87% unfav among Latinos in the LA Times/USC survey) – Republican congressmen in at least three districts with significant Latino and other minority populations, could get Trumped.
With only 14 of California’s 53 congressional districts on their side of the aisle, GOP Reps. Jeff Denham of Atwater, David Valadao of Hanford and Steve Knight of Palmdale all could soon find themselves joined at the hip to a Republican presidential candidate even less popular than John McCain, who took just 37% of the vote against Barack Obama’s 61% in California in 2008.
Unlike their counterparts in most parts of the nation, where 95% of Republican districts are majority white, Denham, Valadao and Knight represent districts that could include plenty of voters disgusted by Trump and susceptible to an appeal from the Democrats. If – and it’s a big “if” — Democratic outreach and voter registration are successful and their candidates are sufficiently qualified and funded.
No matter how much Trump is detested, you can’t beat somebody with nobody.
Denham in Danger Consider Denham’s 10th CD in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, where 42% of the population is Latino and registration is 39% Republican, 37% Democrat and 19% independent. It’s a district that includes Manteca, Modesto and Turlock in which Democrats Obama, Jerry Brown, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein all have won in the past.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is supporting beekeeper Michael Eggman (who ran and lost to Denham 56-43% in 2014), has already tried to link Denham to Trump. In a March 17 press release titled “The Denham and The Donald Line Up Again Against Immigrant Families,” the DCCC pointed to a 2010 debate in which Denham replied “yes” when asked if be believed “anyone who is here right now as an illegal immigrant should be detained, arrested and deported?”
But based on Denham’s more nuanced stance on illegal immigration, Politifact California, which acknowledged Denham had agreed to the debate question, rated the DCCC’s charge “mostly false.” That, however, may be giving Denham a bit more leeway than voters are likely to accept – unless the congressman denounces Trump’s approach to immigration and deportations.
Eggman has already jumped on the issue. “Like most Californians, I’m deeply offended by Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric,” he said back in April “We’re going to send Trump Republicans like Denham packing.”
“I have won by big margins…no matter who is on top of the ticket, because I represent the views that are important to people at home,” Denham told McClatchy’s Michael Doyle in response. “I am a Republican in California who wins the Hispanic vote, and I expect to continue to do so.”
Perhaps, but the political landscape in California is changing rapidly, in part driven by newly registered voters who are repulsed by Trump. As Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc., noted recently in an important analysis of voter data:
This skyrocketing registration can be broken out by partisanship, ethnicity and age, and shows some striking differences by group. In a traditional election year, a 65% growth from the same period of last year would be remarkable. But this year we are seeing a doubling of registration growth among Latinos, and a more than 150% increase for some young voters, and a near-tripling for Democrats.
Valadao Seeks Validation: Rep. David Valadao’s 21st CD, in Fresno, Kern and Tulare counties – including part Coalinga, Delano and part of Bakersfield – is another target-rich district, where 71% of the population is Latino and registration is 47% Democrat, 31% Republican and 19% independent.
Emilio Huerta, a Bakersfield lawyer and son of famed United Farm Worker’s Union leader Dolores Huerta, is challenging Valadao and is ready to tie Valadao to Trump.
“We just can’t go back to the time that Latinos were blamed for all our country’s woes,” Huerta told McClatchy’s Doyle.
As Javier Panzer of the Los Angeles Times observed, the Democrats failed in 2014 to turn their 16-point registration edge to their advantage in 2014, when “Amanda Renteria, a long-time Capital Hill staffer who grew up in the Central Valley, mounted an expensive campaign that year but still lost to Valadao by the same margin as the Democrat who faced him in 2012, 57.8% to 42.2%. (Renteria is now Hillary Clinton’s national political director.)”
This time, however, the shape of the race could be the equivalent of Cesar Chavez versus David Duke — which might just motivate all those potential Latino voters to actually get out the vote. Obama, Feinstein and Brown all have carried the district in the past and with Renteria in Clinton’s political command, it would make sense if Huerta v Valadao were to become a parallel to Clinton v Trump in the Central Valley.
Steve’s Trump Nightmare: And then there’s Rep. Steve Knight of Palmdale, in the 25th CD, which is 46% white, but 35% Latino, 8% black and 8% Asian – in other words 51% of the population is made up of people offended by Donald Trump in one way or another. Moreover Democrats and Republicans each claim 37% while independents comprise 21%.
The district encompasses northern Los Angeles and Ventura counties, including Santa Clarita and Simi Valley. Obama won in 2008 here, but Republican Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina won in 2010. It’s no easy challenge for the Democrats.
But Emily’s List and the DCCC have already been hammering on Knight, especially on the issue of abortion.
“Donald Trump is leading the GOP charge to prevent women from making their own health care decisions, and Steve Knight is standing right beside him,” said EMILY’s List Press Secretary Rachel Thomas. “First Knight and Trump supported an unconstitutional abortion ban that would criminalize doctors, and now he’s standing by the Republican frontrunner who said he wants to ‘punish’ women who get abortions. Elections matter, and Steve Knight is linking arms with Donald Trump at the expense of California women and families.”
Just last week, Knight tried to distance himself from Trump during a debate in the district, but didn’t exactly make clear whether he’s for Trump or not.
“We still got a convention,” he told the Timesman Panzar later. “And they are not going to cancel the convention, and he still hasn’t gotten enough delegates. So until that happens, I think this is a moot point, I think this is something for sensationalism.”
It’s doubtful that his Democratic challengers — attorney Bryan Caforio and Los Angeles Police Department Lt. Lou Vince – will let Knight wiggle away from The Donald. When the incumbent congressman’s presidential standard-bearer is despised by three-quarters of the voters, the target is too rich.