Democrat Baca’s Comeback Challenge As Stiff From His Own Party As The GOP

(May 3) In 2012, then-incumbent 43rd Congressional District Congressman Joe Baca chose to seek reelection in California’s newly redrawn 35th Congressional District, which had been formed pursuant to the state redistricting that took place after the 2010 Census.  Baca actually lived within the confines of the newly drawn 31st Congressional District, but was not required to run there as the residency requirements for members of Congress specify that they must merely be a resident of the state in which the district they represent is located.
While voter registration in both the 31st and 35th districts favored Democrats, Baca calculated he had a far better chance of maintaining his incumbency in the 35th District. In the 35th, registered Democrats overwhelmingly outnumbered registered Republicans 114,641 to 65,521. In the 31st, the margin was 119,964 Democrats to 103,904 Republicans. A factor that influenced his decision to run in the 35th was that another incumbent, Republican Gary Miller, who had represented California’s 42nd District, was purposed to seek election in the 31st District as a consequence of redistricting.
Given Republicans’ greater voter turnout propensity and Miller’s strong fundraising capability, Baca elected to run in the 35th.  In 2012, California put into place open primary elections. In the 35th, Baca faced a challenge by Gloria Negrete-McLeod, who had been a member of the California Senate since 2006, having previously served in the Assembly from 2000 to 2006. Of note, in winning her state senate seat for the first time in 2006, Negrete-McLeod had defeated Joe Baca’s son, Joe Baca, Jr.
Given his incumbency and perceived fundraising advantage over all other challengers, including Negrete-McLeod, Baca in 2012 appeared to have a leg up on the competition. And indeed, in the June open primary polling, Baca bested Negrete-McLeod by what seemed a more-than-comfortable margin, 12,619 votes or 47.7 percent to 9,078 or 33.93 percent. A third candidate in the race, Anthony Vieyra polled 5,058 votes or 18.9 percent. Thus, Baca and Negrete-McLeod, both Democrats, qualified for a head-to-head battle in the November general election, one Baca seemed destined to win handily.
In the final weeks before the general election on November 6, 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, who throughout most of the campaign had been complacent, was caught flatfooted and 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.
Baca, now 66, is unwilling to accept political retirement. He indicated relatively early on that he intended to run for Congress yet again. He hinted, and most of those listening assumed, he had his sights set on a rematch with Negrete-McLeod, who will not be able to rely upon Bloomberg’s largesse in 2014, and whom Baca will no longer take lightly.
More recently, however, Baca rethought his future political strategy and concluded that he will run in the 31st District, challenging Miller.
Already, however, Baca’s road back to Capitol Hill has complexified. Ideally,  the 13-year veteran of Congress had hoped to engineer his political comeback by simply standing up to challenge Miller in the 31st District, which sprawls across San Bernardino County from Rancho Cucamonga to Redlands, covering all or parts of Fontana, Rialto, Colton, San Bernardino, and Redlands and consists of a population that is  29.7% White, 11.0% Black, 7.2% Asian, and 49.4% Hispanic. Given the district’s current 119,964 to 103,904 registered voter advantage of Democrats over Republicans, Baca was looking for an uneventful primary battle that would result in a match-up against the Republican Miller, the same battle he had avoided last year when he chose to run in the 35th.
It is a painful irony to Baca, a Democrat who has never lost to a Republican, that those who have vanquished him have been Democrats. And as the election of 2014 looms closer, it appears that Baca’s toughest opponents, the ones who may prevent him from returning to Washington, D.C. or prevent him even from getting into a one-on-one contest with Miller, are his fellow Democrats.
Already, three stalwart Democrats have declared their candidacies in the 31st in 2014.
Pete Aguilar, the mayor of Redlands, who ran unsuccessfully in the primary in the 31st last year, is making a return engagement.  Also running is Eloise Gomez Reyes, a first-time candidate who has been active in supporting other Democratic candidates in the past, and San Bernardino School Board Member Danny Tillman. And the field is by no means closed, as other potential Democrats have more than a year-and-a-half to declare their candidacies. Nevertheless, the troika of Aguilar, Reyes and Tillman are in themselves troubling enough for Baca.
Aguilar has made clear he is ready to undercut Baca with members of their party. He recently sought to capture the Democratic Party base in the 31st, launching a broadside against Baca by reminding voters that Baca had endorsed the Republican Miller in his election bid last year. Upon her announcement, Reyes picked up the endorsements of a number of prominent Democrats, including that of Colton Mayor Sarah Zamora. And Tillman’s presence in the field is particularly galling to Baca. Tillman is a political ally of former Rialto mayor, assemblyman and county supervisor Jerry Eaves. Eaves, likewise a Democrat, was Baca’s major nemesis at the beginning of his political career. Baca lost three straight election campaigns for Assembly against Eaves in 1986, 1988 and 1990. It was not until Eaves voluntarily left the Assembly in favor of a successful bid for county supervisor in 1992 and sought unsuccessfully to have his place in Sacramento assumed by another of his allies, John Longville, that Baca was finally able to get elected to state office.
Now, to achieve the match-up with Miller, Baca must endure what could be a bruising internecine struggle within his own party. And Aguilar, as the most serious of the Democratic contenders against Miller last year, has already secured crucial Democratic Party backing for his 2014 run. Thus, Baca’s desired strategy of engaging in energetic fundraising and building a substantial political war chest and simply entering the race a year-and-a-half hence, while surviving the primary and husbanding his financial resources to heavily engage Miller in the November 2014  General Election does not appear viable. He will need to spend a considerable amount of money in the June 2014 Primary to ensure that he can outdistance Aguilar, thus weakening his campaigning capability against Miller for November 2014.
Indeed, the well-financed Miller has already proven that he can exploit the Democrats’ tendency to field an abundance of candidates during the primaries.
Last year, Aguilar was joined by three other Democrats  –  Justin Kim, Rita Ramirez-Dean,  and Renea Wickman in the primary. Another Republican – former California Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton – was in the race along with Miller. Despite the Democrats’ registration advantage in the district, the splitting of the Democratic vote among twice as many candidates as the Republicans offered resulted in Miller and Dutton being the top vote-getters in June. Thus, no Democrats qualified for the November run-off. Miller and Dutton stood against each other in November and Miller proved victorious.

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