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June 17, 2013
When Democrats look at California’s 31st Congressional District, they see what Nathan Gonzales sees.
“This is a Democratic district that happened to elect a Republican,” said Gonzales, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, a nonpartisan Washington newsletter than analyzes congressional races.
The race for the district representing 703,000 San Bernardino County residents will be one of America’s most closely watched in 2014. Democrats are targeting Rep. Gary Miller, R-Rancho Cucamonga, as they try to gain the 17 seats they’ll need to control the House of Representatives.
Miller is the only GOP incumbent whose 2014 re-election chances are considered a toss-up by the Cook Political Report, another nonpartisan newsletter. A congressman since 1999, Miller represented parts of Los Angeles and Orange counties before being elected to the 31st in 2012.
Several factors favor Democrats in the district, which encompasses San Bernardino, Redlands, Rancho Cucamonga, Colton, Rialto, Loma Linda and Grand Terrace. Forty-one percent of district voters are registered Democrats, and 34 percent are Republicans.
President Barack Obama won 56 percent of the district’s vote in 2012. And almost half of the district’s residents are Latinos, a solid Democratic voting bloc, and three of the four Democrats running for the 31st District are Latino.
Miller’s spokesman, Chris Marsh, said the 64-year-old congressman is focused on legislation that will help the district, such as ensuring that medical-bill debt doesn’t harm patients’ credit.
If there’s one thing in Miller’s favor, it’s history. The president’s party tends to fare worse in mid-term elections and voter turnout typically isn’t as strong. And Republican Jerry Lewis, of Redlands, represented part of the area for 34 years before retiring last year.
For Democrats, 2014 is a chance to erase an embarrassing outcome.
The party thought it had a safe seat in the 31st, which was created through redistricting in 2011. But in 2012, California launched a new primary system in which the top two vote-getters advance to the general election regardless of party affiliation.
Miller and Republican state Sen. Bob Dutton finished first and second in the primary, ahead of four Democrats who split the vote between themselves. Miller beat Dutton in November and Gonzales said Miller likely will make it out of the 2014 primary.
Gary Miller Republican – Background: Incumbent who moved to Rancho Cucamonga to represent district. A congressman since 1999.
Joe Baca Democrat – Background: Longtime Inland congressman mounting a comeback after losing re-election in 2012.
Eloise Gomez Reyes Democrat – Background: Attorney backed by EMILY’s List, which promotes pro-choice, Democratic women candidates.
Danny Tillman Democrat – Background: Board member of San Bernardino City Unified School District.
Pete Aguilar Democrat – Background: Redlands mayor backed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
This year, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign vehicle of House Democrats, is strongly touting Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, who ran for the 31st in 2012. But Aguilar faces competition from three other Democrats – former Rep. Joe Baca, Colton attorney Eloise Gomez Reyes and San Bernardino school board member Danny Tillman.
Douglas Herman, an Aguilar campaign adviser, said competition among Democrats for the seat is to be expected.
“Obviously a congressional seat is a big deal and these things aren’t handed out for free,” he said. “Gary Miller’s vulnerability is clear … and I think folks are looking for the opportunity to take him on.”
It’s too early to say which Democrat will prevail, although Baca, a former state lawmaker who spent 14 years in Congress, might lead a poll today due to name recognition, Gonzales said.
The 2014 primary isn’t until June 2014. But the DCCC already is attacking Miller.
In February, the DCCC slammed the congressman for missing a vote to re-authorize the Violence Against Women Act; he said he had to return to California for a family matter. A DCCC ad in Cal State San Bernardino’s student newspaper accused Miller of supporting higher student loan interest rates.
The DCCC also is calling attention to Miller’s vote against an Obama administration program that provides a temporary reprieve for young undocumented immigrants. Miller was a vocal foe of illegal immigration in his old district but he’s been relatively silent on the issue in the 31st, which has more Latinos.
Miller also is being targeted by the pro-Democrat House Majority PAC and EMILY’s List, which supports pro-choice Democratic women candidates and is backing Gomez Reyes.
Marsh said Miller has met with constituents to talk about immigration. So long as an immigration bill secures the borders and protects jobs for American workers, “All the other issues are on the table with regard for immigration,” Marsh said.
Gomez Reyes, 57, could not be reached for comment. But EMILY’s List spokeswoman Marcy Stech described Miller, Baca and Aguilar as part of the establishment and said Gomez Reyes offers a fresh perspective.
“It’s clear that the 31st Congressional District is ready to have a Democrat representing them in Congress,” she said. “We feel that candidate is Eloise.”
BACA VS. AGUILAR
The DCCC supports Aguilar because, “Pete fills in many ways a profile that we’re seeking nationally – doers and problem solvers,” said DCCC spokesman Matt Inzeo.
Democrats also believe Aguilar, 33, offers more of a contrast to Miller than Baca, 66, Gonzales said.
“I think they see Aguilar as more of the future,” he said, adding that Aguilar comes from a part of the 31st District where Democrats want to do better.
Baca lost his re-election bid in the 35th Congressional District in November to Democrat Gloria Negrete McLeod. Aguilar has criticized Baca for supporting Miller in last year’s election.
“Joe Baca must think Inland Empire voters have short memories,” Aguilar said in April. “That’s the only thing that would explain the fact that he has decided to run against Congressman Gary Miller, the candidate he endorsed in the last election.”
Earlier this year, Baca announced plans to run for his old seat in the 35th. He said he decided to run in the 31st at the urging of labor and community groups.
Baca said he supported Miller last year because there was no other Democrat in the race after the primary. He added there are plenty of differences between him and Miller – Miller voted to authorize military action in Iraq and Baca opposed it, for instance.
Baca said he’s more appealing to voters because he has a proven record of accomplishment for the district.
“With the other (candidates), there is no contrast (with Miller) because they haven’t done anything,” Baca said. “That’s what the DCCC will do for the other candidate – build a mirage.”
‘GAME OF DEMS’
Tillman, 50, said he was discouraged against running for the 31st when he attended April’s Democratic convention in Sacramento.
“It’s critical that people who are qualified are able to run for office,” said Tillman, the district’s only African American candidate. “I think the worst thing that could happen would be for any group, a year before the election, to decide who can run.”
Republicans are mocking the Democratic infighting. The National Republican Congressional Committee, the DCCC’s counterpart, created a “Game of Dems” map modeled after the “Game of Thrones” cable series.
“Given the crowded field and number of candidates on their side, the real fireworks in this race will be in the Democratic primary,” said NRCC spokeswoman Alleigh Marré.
“We look forward to watching the primary battle unfold, and are confident that Gary Miller will be in a strong position to defeat whichever weakened candidate ultimately emerges from their bitter and divisive competition.”
With four Democrats in the race, “I think it’s going to be messy,” Gonzales said. “(But) as long as a Democrat gets through to the general election, the Democrats will have that takeover opportunity.”
Read the full article at The Press-Enterprise
Photo credit (top featured photo): The National Republican Congressional Committee created this map spoofing the TV series “Game of Thrones” to poke fun at Democratic infighting in the 31st Congressional District.
Posted by The Lincoln Club of San Bernardino County on Monday, June 17th, 2013 @ 10:46PM