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Monday, June 18, 2007

CA-24: Turning The Color Purple?

The number of competitive congressional districts in California is extremely short. Our politicians have perfected gerrymandering and "incumbent protection" into an exquisite artform here in the Golden State. This explains why California voters will likely see another Redistricting Reform Ballot Initiative (currently, there are FOUR competing proposals in Sacramento) in February 2008 when we participate in the Tsunami Tuesday National Primary.

But, since we're stuck with the current system of "incumbent protection" for the time being, are any of the 20 GOP-held seats vulnerable beyond the ethically-challenged trio of Doolittle, Lewis & Miller?

An article in Monday's LA Times reports open space advocate and former Ventura Mayor Richard Francis is considering entering the race against Elton Gallegly.

Could he turn the district blue? Or at least purple?

It won't be easy. Let's face it - the 52 Congressional Districts rarely switch party control. The one 2006 switch - 11th District Democrat Jerry McNerney's defeat of Richard Pombo was made possible by a "perfect storm" of incumbent corruption, the national anti-Republican sentiment, netroots support, and a coalition of green groups targeting America's #1 environmental villain brought Pombo's congressional career to an end.

When the California Democratic Party scans the list of 20 GOP-held seats searching for their top targets each cycle the list typically includes those with ethical clouds hanging over their heads. John Doolittle (CA-04), Jerry Lewis (CA-42), and Gary Miller (CA-44) all represent Republican constituencies but are ripe for picking, especially if 2008 is anything like 2006.

An April ScrippsNews article "A New Day for Democrats?" reported the CDP is expanding its focus beyond the ethically-challenged:

Last fall's congressional elections, in which Democrats took control of the House of Representatives by unseating 21 GOP incumbents nationwide, have caused the party to re-examine its chances of competing in districts once considered un-winnable.

"In a lot of these districts, the numbers just don't work," said Roger Salazar, spokesman for the state Democratic Party. "But there are opportunities for us all over the place as long as we can give voters a good alternative. If candidates haven't delivered for their constituents, they don't have a chance. But if you've got a candidate who's delivered, then people begin to look at the individual instead of just the party."

One of the "possibly purple" districts is CA-24, (CA-24 wiki) a Ventura/Santa Barbara district. Party registration in the district favors the GOP 44-34, but 20% of voters are registered as DTS (declined to state), possibly putting this district in play in a presidential election year.

Richard Francis' local prominence as a slow-growth advocate and green positions could resonate with district voters, as the Los Angeles Times reports:

Gallegly's backing of the Iraq war and his record on environmental issues could make the 11-term representative vulnerable with crossover voters who want the war to end and are worried about the effects of global warming, they argue.

Francis, the author of Ventura County's popular slow-growth laws, Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources, would be the most credible challenger to face Gallegly since 2000. In that year, Ventura lawyer Michael Case finished 13 percentage points behind Gallegly."He has name recognition because of SOAR.

He's working on a traffic issue in Oxnard right now. And he's a former mayor of Ventura," county Democratic Chairman Bill Gallaher said of Francis. "He's out there with popular issues that seem to be supported in the area."

But Francis, 58, busy with a bustling law practice and an Oxnard traffic initiative campaign, isn't sure he's ready for the hard fight of unseating an incumbent. It would be an uphill, but not insurmountable, challenge, he said.

"I could do it," he said. "It seems like it's the year. I almost feel an obligation to run. But I'm not quite there yet."

While Gallegly has announced his intention to run, whether he follows through remains to be seen. In May 2006, he announced his retirement from Congress, only to change his mind days later, apparently responding to White House pressure. Calitics reports (big h/t to dday) he has also publicly stated he isn't enjoying being in the Congressional minority and this may play a factor in his decision to run in 2008.

So, it's now up to the netroots to convince Francis to throw his hat in the ring. If "Googly Gallegly" is thinking of retiring (again), an open seat could be ours for the taking!


Cross-posted at An Enduring Democratic Majority and DailyKos.

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