In summary

A photoshopped campaign ad, an endorsement from a racist Internet troll and a whole boatload of cash. How else would you expect the campaign for California’s hot House races to end?

A photoshopped campaign ad, an unwelcome endorsement from a racist Internet troll and a whole boatload of cash. How else would you expect the 2018 campaign to end? Here’s one last recap of what happened across California’s 53 congressional districts this week.

1. What it’s all about

Rep. Jeff Denham has settled on his final message. In this northern Central Valley district where Democrats outnumber Republicans but where above-average GOP turnout has kept Republicans like him in power, Denham is keeping it “all about water—and mostly pretending that President Donald Trump doesn’t exist.”

That’s the take from McClatchy’s Kate Irby, not just because Central Valley agriculture is so dependent on water. Many local farmers see themselves in competition with Sacramento and Bay Area environmentalists, who prevent more water from heading south in order to protect the Sacramento delta ecosystem (as you may have heard from the president recently).

That adds additional weight to the nickname that Denham has applied to his Democratic opponent: “San Francisco Josh Harder.” Harder grew up in the district, but went to Stanford and worked for a Bay Area investment firm.

Harder insists that he shares most of Denham’s views on water policy. But like most Democrats in the state, he’d prefer to talk about health care.

From a recent article from California Healthline: Democrats in California’s most competitive House races are using their campaign ads to pummel opponents on health care, a topic that nearly three-quarters of voters say figures highly in their choices for Congress this year. That’s led some vulnerable Republicans to discover a newfound appreciation for some core provisions of the Affordable Care Act. In a recent ad from GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Orange County, he vows that he’s “fighting for those with preexisting conditions.”

Rohrabacher voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which bans insurance companies from denying coverage to those with preexisting conditions.

2. Bad company

Rep. Steve Knight, who is fighting to retain his seat north of Los Angeles in one of the country’s most competitive races, wants voters to know he cares about veterans. That’s why he included the endorsement of a former Air Force medic front and center on his campaign website.

The only problem, as the Los Angeles Times discovered, is that the vet, Santa Clarita resident David Brayton, has a history of posting racist and violent language on social media. He’s called for the death of former President Barack Obama, shared Ku Klux Klan imagery and repeatedly incited violence against Muslims and targeted harassment against Jews.

In his video endorsement on Knight’s page, Brayton is wearing a t-shirt with the word “infidel.”

A screenshot of Rep. Steve Knight’s campaign website taken on November 1. David Brayton on the right.

Knight’s campaign strategist, Matt Rexroad, told the Times that the campaign had not considered it necessary to review the social media history of Brayton before featuring him in the ad. He said that the timing of the Times’ coverage was “ridiculous” and that the campaign had no plans to take down the video.

But by Thursday evening, it had disappeared from the campaign website.

3. “A jaw-dropping amount of money”

Republican congressman Devin Nunes has amassed $17 million in an effort to hold his seat in and around Visalia. His opponent, Democratic prosecutor Andrew Janz, has raised about $8 million.

Even by the cash-saturated standard of American politics, that’s a lot of money. As a new report from KQED points out, that makes California’s 22nd CD the most expensive congressional race in California this year.

Which is a little weird. A recent SurveyUSA poll found that Nunes 14 points ahead of Janz. The election forecast model at FiveThirtyEight put the odds on Nunes, 19-to-1. Why is so much money pouring into such a long-shot race?

One Janz supporter summed up the logic on the Democratic side: “Honestly, I don’t know a ton about Andrew Janz. I just know he’s not Devin Nunes.”

Meanwhile, Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City, is showering money on two more competitive races in Southern California—or at least his political action committee is. According to the Los Angeles Times. Bloomberg’s Independence USA PAC has dropped $4.4 million against Orange County Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and $5.1 million in support of Katie Hill, a 31-year-old Democrat running against Rep. Steve Knight in the suburbs north of Los Angeles.

A couple million more is being sprinkled to benefit Democrats across the state, adding up to about $11 million. Or, as one Republican strategist put it, “a jaw-dropping amount of money.”

4. A shonde in the 50th:

As we’ve noted before, Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. is the San Diego County Republican congressman who is either most famous for allegedly siphoning off campaign cash to finance family vacations and extra-marital affairs, or for running a racist campaign that all but accuses his young Democratic opponent of being a terrorist.

This week, 17 rabbis from the San Diego area denounced Hunter’s attacks on his opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, as nothing but “appeals to racism, bigotry and fear.”

From the letter:

“These false fear mongering claims undermine important Jewish values including the commitment to tolerance, honesty and respect. In light of the recent tragedy of Pittsburgh we feel compelled to speak out against hate speech wherever it occurs.”

They added that the letter was not meant to be an endorsement of either candidate.

5. Call me Valadao:

California’s 21st district is what you call an outlier.

According to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakich, GOP Rep. David Valadao, who represents the Central Valley district, is the “highest-overperforming Republican” in the country. Rakich came to that conclusion by comparing how much a Republican candidate is projected to win in a district compared to that districts’ “partisan lean”—a composite measure of how a district voted in recent presidential and state legislative elections.

At the moment, FiveThirtyEight projects Valadao will beat Democrat T.J. Cox by 6 points. By its measure the district leans blue by 10 points. That’s a 16 point difference.

Valadao’s district has always been a bit of head-scratcher, at least on paper. Here, Democrats outnumber Republicans among registered voters by more than 17 points. And yet Valadao is going for a fourth term, thanks to his strong ties to local farmers, his perceived moderation on immigration policy, and dismal turnout among Democrats in the district.

That all makes the district a “white whale” for California Democrats, writes Rakich. But despite Cox’s efforts to frame the debate around health care and President Trump, Valadao has relentless attacked Cox as an outsider and a carpetbagger.

The latest example is a new ad illustrating that at least a few of Cox’s canvassers came in from the Bay Area and didn’t know how to pronounce the incumbent congressman’s name.

6. No pledge to Pelosi:

Republicans are eager to portray their electoral opponents as pawns of San Francisco Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the woman most likely to be Speaker of the House should Democrats win control of the chamber.

But no, Democratic candidates are not signing fealty oaths to their next Madame Speaker.

You wouldn’t know that from a recent mailer paid for by the campaign to re-elect Rep. Doug LaMalfa. It includes a photo of LaMalfa’s opponent, Audrey Denny, signing a pledge to support “Nancy Pelosi and the Liberal Democrats that want to continue our tax increases.” The picture was obviously doctored—the original picture featured Denny promising not to take contributions from oil, gas or coal companies.

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Ben covers housing policy and previously covered California politics and elections. Prior to these roles at CalMatters, he was a contributing writer for CalMatters reporting on the state's economy and...