California’s political deck is filled with wild cards for 2012 

The 2010 elections were staged just a few months ago, but politicians from the White House down are turning their attention to the 2012 edition. Those in California, with notable exceptions, face great uncertainty.

The most certain aspect of the California political picture is that U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein will be re-elected to another six-year term — if, in fact, she runs again. She says she is and she probably will, but she’ll also be 79 years old next year, so a re-election bid cannot be a certainty.

A new poll by North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling not only reconfirms Feinstein’s strong approval ratings but also shows her easily defeating any of the potential Republican challengers in head-to-head surveys.

President Barack Obama would also be an overwhelming favorite to carry California again in 2012 — but when it comes to legislative and congressional delegation elections, the only certainty is that Democrats will retain their majorities in both arenas.

Which legislative and congressional politicians will survive, however, is very much up in the air.

An entirely new set of districts will be drawn up by an independent redistricting commission — or the courts, if the commission falters — which means politicians are no longer choosing their own voters.

The lines of 53 congressional districts and 120 legislative districts are bound to change a lot. Population shifts will mean fewer districts along the coast and more inland. Latinos will probably gain at the expense of white politicians.

Incumbent legislators and congressional members could find themselves thrown together in new districts. A high number of retirements are likely, especially among congressional incumbents of both parties.

Matt Rexroad, a Yolo County supervisor and Republican political consultant, has pointed out in an Internet analysis the high number of California congressional members who are 65 or older and might not want to risk re-election in newly drawn districts.

Congressional retirements would touch off a feeding frenzy among state legislators, who face not only much-changed districts and term limits but the state’s new “top two” primary system that will radically change election dynamics.

Speaking of which, we don’t even know whether California will stick with its March presidential primary, which has proved to be a bust in expanding the state’s presidential influence, or recombine it with the June primary for other offices next year.

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.

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Dan Walters

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