Few Congressional seats in play in state for midterm elections

California’s lopsided congressional districts make their holders, Democrats and Republicans alike, largely immune to national political trends.

Just one of California’s 53 congressional districts has changed partisan hands since they were redrawn in a bipartisan gerrymander by the Legislature after the 2000 census.

That change occurred in 2006 when Democrat Jerry McNerney defeated Republican Rep. Richard Pombo in the 11th Congressional District, which runs from the East Bay to the San Joaquin Valley, a piece of the Democratic takeover of the House that year.

Four years later, polls indicate that another big congressional shift is looming, with the possibility of Republicans retaking the House. But those gerrymandered districts are still in effect, which means that at most, only a few California seats could change hands this year.

McNerney faces a potentially stiff challenge from Republican David Harmer, the son of a former California lieutenant governor — at least stiff enough that national GOP money is starting to flow into the 11th District, whose voter registration is almost evenly divided.

Harmer is counting on a big Republican wave this year. So is GOP Assemblyman Van Tran, who was recruited by congressional leaders to challenge Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez in Orange County’s 47th District, which has the nation’s largest concentration of Vietnamese American residents.

Meanwhile, Rep. Dan Lungren, a former state attorney general and the 1998 Republican candidate for governor, has the unwanted distinction of being one of the nation’s few imperiled GOP incumbents.

Physician Ami Bera is challenging Lungren in suburban Sacramento’s 3rd District. He has lots of money from fellow Indo Americans and, more recently, national Democratic sources.

A final note: Two so-called Blue Dog Democrats in the San Joaquin Valley, Jim Costa and Dennis Cardoza, are a bit nervous about a GOP surge but are favored to win re-election.

Whether California remains a backwater in national battles for Congress is uncertain. One Nov. 2 ballot measure (Proposition 20) would place congressional redistricting in the hands of an independent commission that’s to redraw legislative districts, which might prevent future gerrymanders.

But another (Proposition 27) would abolish the commission and put all redistricting back in legislative hands.

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

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