Miller’s 2014 Reelection Hopes Hinge On Baca Bleeding Aguilar White

(October 30) As the handicapping for the 2014 31st Congressional race intensifies, perception is shifting as to who, exactly, the frontrunner is. That perception is shaped, at least in part by both party affiliation and wishful projection.
Currently, Gary Miller is the incumbent. In 2012 he cruised to victory in the district, which was reconfigured following the 2010 Census into one that seemingly favored Democrats. But a less than-coordinated approach by the Democrats, who fielded a surfeit of candidates in 2012, that year’s change to open primaries and Miller’s superior fundraising ability combined to prevent the Democrats from claiming the seat.
And while the Democrats appear to be intent on not repeating the electoral debacle of just one year ago, internecine fighting between the current field of 31st District Democrats has created a backdrop for a possible replay of Miller’s victory next year.
Democrats, with some level of justification, consider the 31st District to be one that should naturally fall to them. Of the district’s registered voters, 127,690 or 41 percent, are affiliated with the Democratic Party.  Registered Republicans in the district number 104,938, or 33.7 percent. Independent political appraisers see the 31st as a Democratic asset as well.
Undeterred by the reality that a member of the GOP – Miller – holds the 31st District scepter in hand for the time being, the Rothenberg Political Report, which rates the probable political affiliation of the nation’s Congressional districts, pronounced the 31st as leaning Democratic in June. The Cook Political Report, which persisted in listing the district as a political toss up since 2012, on October 17  changed its rating for the 31st District to “leans Democratic.”
One measure of the voting tendency within the 31st is that 57 percent of its voters polled for Obama in 2012.
The stage thus seems set for a Democrat to chase Miller out of office next year. But which Democrat that will be is the question and as that question lingers, the prospect is growing that those who see themselves as the answer to that question will end up bleeding each other white even before they can get into a one-on-one match-up with Miller.
Miller defied the odds to gain election in the Democratic-leaning 31st Congressional District last year despite his Republican Party affiliation. Between 2002 and 2012, Miller had represented voters in the 42nd District, encompassing the southwestern corner of San Bernardino County, the northeastern corner of Orange County and the southeastern corner of Los Angeles County, where Republicans held a strong registration advantage. But with the redistricting following the 2010 Census, Miller was left without a district in which to run safely, as Ed Royce, another incumbent Republican, found himself reapportioned into the new 39th District, which commandeered much of Miller’s old 42nd District.
Miller chose to run in the 31st where it was presumed that then-incumbent Democratic Congressman Joe Baca would run. But Baca, perhaps fearing Miller’s prodigious fundraising ability, elected to run in the even more heavily Democrat-laden 35th Congressional District.
Members of Congress do not need to live within the geographical boundaries of the district they represent, and merely need to live within the state where the district in which they hold office is located. Miller, who resides in Diamond Bar, took a calculated risk by vying in the Democratic-leaning 31st District, which encompasses parts of Upland and Rancho Cucamonga, and stretches eastward across San Bernardino County through a large portion of Fontana, Rialto, Colton, San Bernardino and Redlands. Another Republican, Bob Dutton, joined the fray in the 31st District in the 2012 primary, as did four Democrats – Pete Aguilar, Justin Kim, Rita Ramirez-Dean, and Renea Wickman. Despite the seven percent Democratic voter registration advantage in the 31st, simple mathematics hurt the Democrats as their vote was divided four ways, while the Republican vote was split two ways. Dutton and Miller proved to be the two top vote-getters and under California’s open primary arrangement, the November general election came down to a race between Republicans Miller and Dutton. Miller prevailed in that race.
The Democrats, licking their wounds, have attempted to regroup and undertake steps to take the 31st District back.
In May, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee 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. In California, Aguilar has pulled in the endorsements of Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.
Money is pouring into Aguilar’s political war chest. More attention was drawn to him, ensuring even more contributions, when  the Washington-based news organization, Politico, last month named  Aguilar one of “50 Politicos to watch in 2013.”
While Democratic Party members at the national level have settled upon Aguilar as the logical standard bearer against Miller in 2014, several local Democratic hopefuls are not on the same page.
Foremost among these is Baca, who did not fare well in the 35th District race last year against then-state senator Gloria Negrete-McCleod, also a Democrat. After Republican New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg provided Negrete-McLeod with $2.7 million from his political action committee, she was able to blitz the airwaves and district mailboxes with anti-Baca advertisements which pushed her over the top in the 35th. Now relying on the residual fundraising capability he enjoyed during his 13 years in Congress, Baca is trying to make a political comeback in the 31st District. In addition to the name recognition Baca brings to the political table, he possesses, as a former member of Congress, indirect and residual political clout, together with an insider’s knowledge of issues and alliances, which he is working assiduously to bring to bear.  In this way, Baca can count on big money backing from national and even international players. An example of this is his recent move to stand up for the Keystone XL Pipeline, which was originally undertaken by one of Baca’s former political supporters, ConocoPhillips, in conjunction with TransCanada. The first two of the four phases of the pipeline system to transport oil sands bitumen from Canada and  Bakken synthetic crude oil and light crude oil produced from the Williston Basin, known as the Bakken region, in Montana and North Dakota  primarily to refineries on the Gulf Coast have been completed. ConocoPhillips at this point has sold its interest in the undertaking to TransCanada, which is now investing heavily in the effort to assure the completion of the last two phases of the project, involving the expansion of refining and processing capability on the Gulf Coast and a controversial pipeline to originate at Hardisty in Alberta, Canada and extend 1,179 miles to Steele City, Nebraska.
Environmentalists are opposed to the project. Baca, however, has given TransCanada his assurance he will support the project on the grounds that it represents an advance toward North American energy independence as well as economic rejuvenation. In this way, he has taken a crucial step toward ensuring that he will receive substantial assistance from TransCanada, its investors, lobbyists and the political action committees TransCanada has endowed.
Nor is Baca the only Democratic candidate Aguilar, who is currently the mayor of Redlands, must overcome. Eloise Gomez Reyes, an attorney and longtime Democratic activist, and Danny Tillman, a school board member from San Bernardino and one-time close associate of former California Assemblyman Jerry Eaves, don’t appear to be responding to their party’s signals to get out of the race. They, along with Baca, appear intent on continuing to test whether they have the combination of charisma, existing support, name recognition and overall moxie to get one of the two top spots in the primary and then follow-up to prevail in November 2014.  So far they have proven resistant to calls that the party present a united front that is undiluted by competing Democratic candidates, allowing a test of Democratic strategists’ theory that Aguilar can beat Miller in a toe-to-toe slugfest, despite Miller’s incumbency and formidable fundraising capability.
Aguilar has yet to bring the campaign money he is accumulating to bear, as he is husbanding that cash for an energetic advertising effort this spring, in the run-up to the primary. As a consequence, he at present lags behind Baca in terms of name recognition and positive name identification among likely Democratic voters and behind both Miller and Baca in name recognition among Republican voters. Two recent polls show Miller and Baca ahead of the other candidates.
The race, or pre-race, has remained static for months, as no new candidates have emerged. It is noteworthy that no candidates have dropped out.  While it is widely accepted that Miller can, unless another Republican candidate emerges, count on garnering the full support of the Republicans in the 31st District in the June primary, a scenario is emerging under which both Baca and Aguilar will need to exhaust all of their available campaign money to get by one another in June, leaving their campaign coffers depleted and rendering whoever the winner is incapable of responding to the onslaught of Miller’s campaign.

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