Miller Withdrawal Sets Up 31st District Baca Vs. Aguilar Slugfest

(February 12)  It now appears that the real dogfight in this year’s 31st Congressional District race will be between Democrats Joe Baca and Pete Aguilar, now that the incumbent, Republican Gary Miller, has announced he will not seek re-election.
Ever since Miller in 2012 gained election in the 31st District, which leans Democratic, the prospects for the 2014 race have been closely watched and there has been much speculation about the eventual final matchup and outcome in the district race.
With the Republicans holding a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives and California being an overwhelming Democratic state, Miller’s hold on the 31st Congressional District provoked the Democrats to begin early and in earnest in their efforts to unseat him as part of a larger strategy to capture control of both houses of the legislature.
Miller’s 2012 victory in the 30th Congressional District, which had been redrawn after the 2010 Census, was an extraordinary occurrence.
In 2012, California had switched to an open primary system, which ended sequestered party ballots and effectively ended the tradition of guaranteeing that a Democrat would face a Republican in the November general election.
In the 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, four Democrats – Pete Aguilar, Justin Kim, Rita Ramirez-Dean, and Renea Wickman – sought election in 2012, as did Miller. In addition, another Republican, Bob Dutton, joined the fray in the 2012 primary. 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.
With no little justification, the Democrats 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.
Even before Miller outpolled Dutton in November 2012, Democratic strategists were conferring about what steps could be taken to ensure that Democratic disarray in 2014 would not perpetuate Miller’s incumbency beyond the current Congress. In short order, a game plan was hatched by which Aguilar, who had polled the most votes among the four Democrats in the 2012 primary, was chosen as the logical party standard bearer. By promoting Aguilar early, engaging in brisk fundraising on his behalf and warding off any other Democrats so a concentrated party electoral effort to advance Aguilar can be mounted, they believed Aguilar could beat Miller in a toe-to-toe slugfest in November 2014, despite Miller’s incumbency and formidable fundraising capability.
Relatively early on, well-connected Democratic-functionaries acted to boost Aguilar.  In May 2013, 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.
Party leaders convinced California’s two senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, to endorse Aguilar. Party donors, inside and outside California, were encouraged to provide him with campaign cash, and money started pouring into Aguilar’s political war chest. More attention was drawn to him, ensuring even more contributions, when the Washington-based news organization, Politico, in July named Aguilar one of “50 Politicos to watch in 2013.”
Joe Baca, who since 1999 had represented California in the Washington D.C.’s lower house in the heavily Democratic-leaning  42nd and 43rd Congressional districts with solid Democratic support, in 2012 found himself unseated when he was opposed by another Democrat, then-state senator Gloria Negrete-McLeod, in the race to represent the newly drawn 35th Congressional District. In the June 2012 primary Baca comfortably outpolled Negrete-McLeod 12,619 votes or 47.17 percent to 9,078 or 33.93 percent in a race that also featured Green Party Candidate  Anthony Vieyra. Nevertheless, in November 2012 Baca was vanquished by Negrete-McLeod, 61,065 votes or 54.35 percent to 51,281 votes or 45.65 percent, after Negrete-McLeod’s campaign was boosted by an infusion of $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 for the last ten months has defied members of his own party in their promotion of Aguilar, and he is using the name recognition he has with local voters, his indirect and residual political clout as a former member of Congress, together with an insider’s knowledge of issues and alliances to obtain big money backing from national and even international players to regain entrance to the House of Representatives. He is joined by Democratic Party activist Eloise Reyes and San Bernardino school board president Danny Tillman in challenging Aguilar.
With Miller out of the picture and no other Republicans having immediately stepped in to make an attempt to succeed Miller, the National Democratic Party’s emphasis on promoting Aguilar is very likely to be tempered in the days ahead, as it now appears quite likely that the seat will fall to a Democrat, as Miller and his prodigious fundraising capability are out of the picture.
There was nonetheless a minor indication that a Republican candidate might crop up to show the flag for the GOP in the 31st. Paul Chabot, who is already seeking state office as a successor to Michael Morrell should Morrell need to vacate his current position in the Assembly as a result of his candidacy to succeed resigned 23rd District State Senator Bill Emmerson, said he has been approached by members of his party to run for Congress in the 31st District. Chabot said he would not diverge from his current ambition with regard to the state Assembly unless Dutton does not leap into the breach.
“I am humbled by the overwhelming number of calls and emails offered by my friends and supporters to run for the congressional seat,” said Chabot. “My position is clear – I am 100 percent behind Dutton who ran for the seat in 2012, if he chooses to run. If he decides not to run, I am seriously considering making a bid.”
In announcing he would not seek reelection, Miller said he was doing so for “family reasons,” making no mention of the consideration that the Democratic Party was targeting him.
“When I came to Congress in 1999, my children were grown and out of the house. Today, we have a full house again. My wife and I are raising our three grandchildren,” he said. “It has been a great honor to spend so many years in public service, striving to make a difference for Southern California families. While there is still a lot of work to be done, it is now time for me to pass the baton.”

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