Baca’s Hope For Comeback Dealt Blow

(May 17) Former Congressman Joe Baca’s bid for a political comeback was dealt another setback last week when fellow Democrat Pete Aguilar, who is currently Redlands mayor, captured the support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in his bid to unseat incumbent Republican Gary Miller in California’s 31st Congressional District.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has selected Aguilar as one of five candidates nationwide to be included in its Jumpstart program, which is intended to assist early-emerging Democrats seeking to unseat incumbent Republicans deemed to be vulnerable.
California’s 31st Congressional District stretches from Rancho Cucamonga to Redlands. By the last count, registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans there by a margin of 119,964 to 103,904. In 2012, Aguilar made a bid for Congress there but was turned back when three other Democrats – Justin Kim, Rita Ramirez-Dean, and Renea Wickman – entered the primary along with him. The Republicans fielded Miller and former California State Senator Bob Dutton. With the more numerous Democratic vote being divided four ways and the Republican vote being gathered by only two candidates, both Dutton and Miller ended up in the November general election runoff as a result of  California’s open primary system, by which the two top vote-getters, regardless of party, qualify for the general election.
Members of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee believe Aguilar can outdistance Miller in a well-financed one-on-one matchup. That presupposes that in 2014 Aguilar will not need to contend, as he did in 2012, with challengers from his own party. Already, however, three other Democrats have emerged as potential candidates in the 31st – Eloise Gomez Reyes, a first-time candidate who has been active in supporting other Democratic candidates in the past; San Bernardino School Board Member Danny Tillman; and Baca, who was a member of Congress from 1999 until last January, after he was defeated in November by fellow Democrat Gloria Negrete-McLeod in the newly drawn 35th District.
By swinging behind Aguilar early and forcefully through including him as a Jumpstart candidate, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, led by New York Congressman Steve Israel, hopes to convince the other Democrats contemplating runs in the 31st District to withdraw. By appealing both to their party loyalty and demonstrating to them the long odds they face in securing a primary victory against the well funded Democrat – Aguilar – and an equally well funded Miller, the committee believes Reyes, Tillman and Baca can be persuaded to stand down from the 31st District race.
None of this bodes well for Baca, who last year elected not to challenge Miller and instead vie for reelection in the 35th District against Negrete-McLeod. In the 35th, Democrats enjoyed a lopsided registered voter advantage over the Republicans of 114,641 to 65,521. Baca, as a Congressional incumbent with a fundraising advantage over fellow Democrat Negrete-McLeod, appeared destined to an easy victory. Indeed, in the June primary, Baca cruised to what seemed be a more-than-comfortable victory over Negrete-McLeod, 12,619 votes or 47.17 percent to 9,078 or 33.93 percent. A third candidate in the race, Anthony Vieyra polled 5,058 votes or 18.9 percent. Heading toward the November election and into October, a confident Baca was looking ahead to yet another term in the House of Representatives.
In the final weeks before the general election on November 6, however, Negrete-McLeod’s campaign was infused with $3.8 million in donations from a political action committee controlled by Republican New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which paid for a $2.3 million television advertising blitz during the last week of the campaign. Baca, caught flatfooted and unable to respond in kind to both a bevy of negative hit pieces that attacked him on his record and upbeat mailers that lionized Negrete-McLeod for her service in the California legislature, saw the election slip away, with Negrete-McLeod capturing 61,065 votes or 54.35 percent to his 51,281 votes or 45.65 percent.
Now 66, Baca is unwilling to hang up his political spikes. With the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s endorsement of Aguilar, however, the political world is fast closing in on Baca from all sides. No longer an incumbent, he does not have the fundraising capability he enjoyed for more than thirteen years as a congressman and for seven years before that as a California legislator.
Thus, the prospect of his having to sustain a more than year-long knockdown drag-out fight with Aguilar to merely obtain a berth in the 2014 General Election against Miller is an unpalatable one. Equally daunting is the task of abandoning his contemplated run in the 31st District and locking horns with Negrete-McLeod, who now has the advantage of incumbency, in a rematch of their 2012 contest.

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