In California congressional campaign news this week: getting personal about sexual assault, scooping up millions of dollars, getting nasty with campaign ads, and rethinking Nancy Pelosi.
While all eyes were on the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings this week, candidates didn’t stop campaigning across California’s 53 congressional districts. Here’s a recap:
1. A #MeToo moment from CA-25
Lots of politicians weighed in on the sexual assault allegations against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh this week, but nobody made it more personal than Katie Hill, Democratic candidate for Congress in the 25th district north of Los Angeles.
I have experienced sexual assault multiple times and in different ways – I never reported and I know how hard it is for somebody to come forward. I also know that many women are in the same place.
— Katie Hill (@KatieHill4CA) September 21, 2018
Hill also shared a video in which she says “if we let that go, for someone in power who should be held to the highest possible standard, instead we are showing to boys and men across the country that it’s OK.” By late today, it had received almost half a million views.
2. Worst of the worst?
GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter is, of course, under federal indictment for allegedly treating campaign donations as a slush fund to finance personal expenses—groceries, dental bills, tequila shots, lavish vacations and, most memorably, airfare for a pet rabbit. His recourse as he fights to keep his San Diego-area seat?
Blow a dog whistle so loud it will make your ears bleed.
What the ad fails to mention: His Democratic opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, is actually a Christian and has denounced a grandfather he said he never really knew. His campaign told the Los Angeles Times that he held a security clearance when he worked in the Obama administration. And California Democratic Party chairman Eric Bauman condemned Hunter for “Islamophobic-baiting.”
Earlier this week, Hunter gave a speech at a Republican woman’s group warning that hoards of “Islamists” are running for federal office this year and that Europe has been ruined by the emigration of Muslims.
As for Campa-Najjar’s campaign, rather than denouncing Hunter in this ad, he lets the familiar folks at Fox News do it for him.
Even so, the district is so heavily Republican that a new Monmouth University Poll shows Hunter leading by 8 points among all possible voters and 15 points using a midterm turnout model.
“One in ten voters in this district think Hunter is probably guilty of campaign fraud, but they are going to vote for him anyway, said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, in a press release. “I know this is a deep red district, but you’ve got to wonder if this isn’t taking partisan loyalty to a new extreme.”
This race is shaping up to be one of the nastiest out there—although there’s a distinction to be made between “my opponent is terrorist because of something his grandfather did” nasty, and “my opponent is verifiably under federal indictment” nasty.
3. Blaming the Bay
At a debate sponsored by the Turlock Journal, Democratic candidate Josh Harder put GOP Rep. Jeff Denham on the spot, demanding that the incumbent declare whether he accepts man-made climate change as reality.“I don’t believe in liberal policies,” Denham began provoking groans from many members of the audience.
When Harder pressed him to answer directly, Denham said, “We shouldn’t have to pay for the Bay Area’s dirty air. Yes, I believe in climate change.”
“Man-made?” asked Harder, who made his career in Silicon Valley and has been dubbed “Bay Area Harder” by Team Dehnam.
“Bay Area-made, yes,” Denham said.
4. Poll Jumping
The New York Times has teamed up with Siena College to poll some of the nation’s most competitive congressional races. A recent survey found GOP Rep. Mimi Walters of Orange County only had the support of 43 percent of likely voters in her district, trailing her Democratic challenger, consumer attorney Katie Porter, who came in at 48 percent. But with a margin of error of 4.5 percent, the race is still a toss-up.
As expected, Democrats looked even stronger in their bid to capture the seat of retiring GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, who represented parts of Orange and San Diego counties. Lawyer Mike Levin is outpacing former state legislator Diane Harkey by a 10-point margin.
And the NYT-Siena poll shows a nail-biter for GOP. Rep. Steve Knight against Democratic challenger Katie Hill, in the district just north of Los Angeles. The two are separated by just 2 percentage points. It also looks like a dead heat between GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who’s been dogged by his close ties to Russia, and Democratic businessman Harley Rouda in their match to represent Orange County’s wealthy coastal enclaves.
The electorate is split across the state. According to a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California, voters are evenly split between Democratic and Republican candidates across the 11 most competitive congressional districts in the state. That should come as ominous news for Republicans, who hold nine of them.
You can find the latest polling on notable congressional races—and more information about candidates and their districts—in our CALmatters voter guide.
5. California is awash in cash
Whether or not California Democrats get their blue wave this November, the green wave has already arrived. According to Federal Election Committee, congressional races across southern California top the list for most outside political spending in the nation this campaign season.
First place goes to the Rohrabacher-Rouda content, which has attracted $7.9 million and counting. The Levin-Harkey race is the third-ranking target of SuperPAC cash at $6.7 million, and Porter-Walters is sixth with $4.7 million. Fourth place was claimed by the Democrat Gil Cisneros and Republican Young Kim race with $5.5 million in yet another Orange County showdown. Democrats are hoping to flip at least some of the seven House seats that were held by Republicans but voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016—part of a nationwide effort to take control of the House.
6. Pelosi may be an albatross, but Trump is a bigger one.
Republicans steered into this election season determined to tie every Democratic congressional candidate to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, convinced her unpopularity would pull them down. A fair number of Democrats have also suggested she’s an outdated symbol of the party and has overstayed her welcome in leadership.
But a private poll commissioned by the Republican National Committee has identified a snag in that strategy. The survey, obtained by Bloomberg, found that respondents favored Pelosi-aligned candidates over Trump-aligned ones— 50 percent to 45 percent. Independents preferred candidates perceived as Pelosi allies over those tied to the president by 4 points.