California has long been the cornerstone of the Democrats’ long-shot path to take back the House, but that already uphill plan got even more difficult on Tuesday, with two of the party’s best pick-up opportunities now off the table and a third once-prime seat starting off at a disadvantage.
The biggest surprise, and subsequent disappointment, came in the 31st District, when top Democratic recruit Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar failed to crack into the top two, assuring that either Rep. Gary Miller (R) or state Sen. Bob Dutton (R) will be the Republican sent to Washington next fall.
In the open 21st District, a series of recruitment failures got even worse for Democrats, when their preferred candidate, Fresno City Councilor Blong Xiong, didn’t make the top two either, and instead they’re left with an underwhelming candidate against a top Republican legislator. Democrats hold a 10-point voter registration edge here, and this should have been one of their top targets, but now is all but off the table.
Democrats did get a break in the 26th District, but they had to work and spend nearly $1 million to make sure Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, made it into top two. They may be encouraged by that result now, but state Sen. Tony Strickland topped Brownley by nearly 20 points and has the sizeable cash edge. This is a seat that should have been more competitive for Democrats than it is.
Bottom line: Democrats probably can’t cherry pick their way to a net gain of 25 House seats (and a majority), so they need to pick up a handful of seats in at least a few states. With President Obama running strong at the top of the ticket, California is a critical state. But yesterday’s primary results suggest that Democratic prospects in the state are dimming.