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CA-10: National Media’s Forgotten Race Proves Victory for Progressives

Color it Blue: California's 10th Congressional District

Color it Blue: California's 10th Congressional District

[Ed. Note: Dave Dayen has more on the CA-10 race.]

You’re forgiven for not knowing that the gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, as well as the clusterFOX Congressional race in NY-23 and referenda on stripping same-sex marriage rights in Maine (NO!) and Washington (YES!) are not the only elections today: even the Washington Post neglected to mention the Congressional election in California’s Tenth District (East Bay) in its Sunday roundup. John Nichols at The Nation reminds us:

On Sunday, in a report on the certainly significant decision of Republican Dede Scozzafava to suspend her campaign for the open congressional seat in New York’s 23rd district, the Post reported:

“With this New York district holding the only congressional election in an off-year cycle, much of the nation’s political attention has gravitated here to the state’s remote crown, an area so close to the Canadian border that highway signs are in English and French.”

Except NY23 isn’t “the only congressional election in an off-year cycle.” California will elect a Congressman today. Here’s why you should care, and why the media should pay attention.

Significantly, this election, probably going to the Democrat, Lt Gov and former Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, means more to the House of Representatives than NY23. Being replaced is New Democrat corporatist Ellen Tauscher, who buffed her progressive credentials by leading the fight to repeal Don”t-Ask-Don’t-Tell but as a former Wall Street executive never met a corporate tax break or free trade agreement or a bank lobbyist she didn’t like. Having a Congressman who fights corporations, especially insurance companies, instead of working hard to make their lives easier, will make a difference in Washington.

John Nichols compares NY23 and CA10 and finds the focus on the Far North misplaced:

1. New York 23 has not elected a Democrat in more than a century. If it elects a Republican Tuesday – and, though Hoffman is running on the Conservative Party line, he is now backed by local, state and national GOP leaders and organizations – the district will hold to the pattern it has been on since Ulysses Grant was president. On the other hand, California 10 was represented by a Republican until Tauscher beat him in 1996 – and in the past century, Republicans have represented the core counties of the district more frequently than Democrats. In other words, California 10 is the more historically competitive turf.

2. New York 23 and California 10 both voted for Barack Obama in 2008. New York’s McHugh and California’s Tauscher both won reelection with the same portion of the vote – 65 percent. But California 10 actually has deeper patterns of partisan shifting and ballot-splitting. Indeed, California 10 voted for Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor in that state’s 2003 recall election and backed Schwarzenegger for reelection by a 56-38 margin in the generally Democratic year of 2006.

3. While Republicans wrangled in New York 23, Democrats saw a bitter battle between high-profile elected officials in California 10 – with Tauscher’s choice to succeed her losing to Lt. Governor John Garamendi. An old-school progressive with an activist bent, Garamendi has been portrayed by some as being too liberal for the suburban district. But Garamendi has not pulled his punches; he has based his populist campaign on his enthusiasm for health care reform and promised to fight for a robust public option in any federal reform measure. And the former California insurance commissioner says he wants to go to Washington to take on the big banks and insurers.

4. Just as Democrats have talked up their prospects for taking New York 23, Republicans have endeavored to create a buzz about California 10. The GOP nominee in the California district, attorney David Harmer, is a solid contender who was a fellow at the Heritage Foundation and whose book on education reform was published by the Cato Institute. Harmer’s ties to local and national conservative leaders and donors have allowed him to raise enough money to fund television commercials that attack Garamendi’s support of the public option and other liberal positions.

5. Conservative publications, especially The National Review, have in recent days been talking up the California 10 vote as one where the party could make a breakthrough. A National Review Online headline recently declared: “David Harmer Might Be Making the Right Race at the Right Time.” While the writer did not say that a Harmer win was in the offering, he wrote that “it feels like the ingredients for one are starting to come together.”

Much more than NY23, CA10 provides a distinct contrast between a GOP presenting hardcore right wing credentials (backed up by national conservative support) and an unapologetic liberal who backs President Obama to the hilt, and would actually push the health care debate to the left. And CA10, unlike NY23, is the kind of district where the GOP needs to begin its resurgence, if it is to have one: suburban, moderate, willing to consider GOP candidates as well as Democrats, demographically fluid, growing, and economically insecure due to job losses and foreclosures. If the GOP’s anti-stimulus teaparty rhetoric is to succeed, it needs to resonate with voters in districts like CA10.

A GOP should be able to make a stand here; John Garamendi’s probable victory means CA10, much more of a bellwether for 2010 than NY23, is willing to give Obama’s supporters time for his policies to work.

But isn’t it fascinating the “The Place for Politics” and the “CNN political ticker” and FOX “News” Election HQ have not discussed this race? And the Washington Post, surely America’s political newspaper if there still is one, affirmatively overlooked the race when it named NY23 the “only congressional election this off-year cycle.”

I’m not surprised that major East Coast media have overlooked CA10; the story here — that an Obama supporter, more liberal than the President, can succeed in a district where the GOP should have an opportunity — doesn’t fit TradMed’s “Obama in trouble, public shying away, big government scaring voters!” narrative.

Also, as the FOURTH national race, CA10 poses the awkward possibility of a split decision: NY23 & VA to the GOP, NJ & CA10 to the Democrats. And the media hates ties. It makes their work harder.

Our polls stay open until 8pm here in California — will anyone mention this race today?

I’m giving John Nichols the last word (my bold):

Both of Tuesday’s House races matter, especially at this volatile political moment nationally. Both should be analyzed with an eye for signals and trends – as should Tuesday’s New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial contests and various mayor races and referendums around the country. There is nothing wrong with trying to draw conclusions from off-year election results. But those conclusions should be based on realities and results – not just those that are cherry-picked by party operatives and pundits who don’t get out of Washington much.

And if John Garamendi wins the California 10 contest, I can guarantee that he will stir things up in Washington far more aggressively than whoever is elected to represent New York 23.

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Teddy Partridge

Teddy Partridge