In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race. California is an important part of the story.
With nearly $37 million spent in total, the battle for the open seat in California’s 39th District takes the cake for the most expensive non-special election House race ever.
Winning Democrat Gil Cisneros, a Navy war veteran and Mega Millions lottery winner, poured more than $9 million of his own money into his campaign and raised $2.8 million.
The Paul Ryan-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) made Cisneros its top target during the general election, buying $6.2 million in ads — including several roughly-$1 million ad buys in October — attacking the Democrat.
Deciding that the best defense is a good offense, the Nancy Pelosi-aligned House Majority PAC (HMP) spent $2.8 million in negative media buys against Republican Young Kim, most of which came during the same time as CLF’s spending spree. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) dropped another $2 million into the race to help Cisneros.
In California’s 48th District, losing incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher was on the wrong side of $11 million in outside spending, the most in opposition spending of any non-special election House candidate in U.S. history. The 15-term congressman endured attacks from almost every major liberal super PAC in existence, these ads focused particularly on his denial of climate change and his frequent trips to Russia.
Among the environmental-focused super PACs, Independence USA spent a race-high $4.5 million in attack ads against Rohrabacher.
A new post-election survey in California’s 48th Congressional District shows that efforts by LCV Victory Fund and its allies to highlight Dana Rohrabacher’s record of denying climate change and opposition to climate action as well as efforts to protect California’s air from pollution were extremely effective in helping propel Harley Rouda to victory over a 15-term incumbent. Voters volunteered Rohrabacher’s position on climate as one of the top reasons for their vote against him, and voters who recall hearing LCVJoe Mozingo at LAT writes that Orange County was not just Republican, but that it also represented a flamboyant brand of often-extreme conservatism.
Victory Fund’s message on climate and air pollution were significantly more likely to vote for Rouda when controlling for partisanship
With Rohrabacher winding down his last days in Congress after his defeat in November, his departure will mark the end of an outsize Orange County export to the nation: The extreme anti-communist politico whose fears of Soviet domination and anger at American cultural change conjured a litany of bogeymen — gays, liberals, feminists, Latinos, African Americans, Jews, Muslims.
“Dana was the last of them,” said Fred Smoller, associate professor of political science at Chapman University. “That’s why his defeat was so enormous.”
The first wave of demographic change in Orange County knocked Dornan out of office in 1996, when Democrat Loretta Sanchez took that seat.
But Rohrabacher was secure in his mostly white, deeply Republican district. He was not nearly as caustic as Dannemeyer or Dornan, who used to call him a “fruitcake.”
“Dana Rohrabacher came out of the Reagan Revolution, and he really reflected Orange County conservative politics for a generation,” said Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan think tank, and former pollster at UC Irvine. “I think he reflected the values of his district for a long time, and those values changed as it became more politically and demographically diverse.”