Clinton stumps for Dems in Calif. House races
DAVIS, Calif. (AP) – Former President Bill Clinton will appear with four California Democratic congressional candidates at a university rally Tuesday, illustrating the competitiveness created by the state’s independently drawn political boundaries.
Clinton hopes to help two incumbents, Reps. John Garamendi and Jerry McNerney, and to boost the fortunes of two challengers. Democrats Ami Bera and Jose Hernandez are vying to unseat Republican Reps. Dan Lungren and Jeff Denham.
All four races are in the greater Sacramento area.
Bera, a physician and educator from Elk Grove, gave Lungren a serious challenge two years ago and hopes to capitalize on a slight Democratic registration edge in the suburban Sacramento district.
Denham, a Republican freshman and U.S. Air Force veteran from Turlock, faces former astronaut Hernandez of Modesto in a largely agricultural district in the San Joaquin Valley.
Both of those newly drawn seats give Democrats a narrow voter registration edge, although nearly one in five voters is registered as an independent.
The novelty of so many hotly contested congressional races has attracted money and attention to California, where as many as a dozen races are considered competitive. Both major parties and outside political action committees are pouring millions of dollars into advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts.
Clinton’s appearance at the University of California, Davis comes as county elections clerks begin distributing vote-by-mail ballots, which could account for more than half the votes cast in November.
Hundreds of students gathered in the outdoor quad area on the campus about 15 miles west of the state capital to get a glimpse of the former president. Most were too young to remember his time in office, but some recalled their parents speaking fondly of him.
“Growing up, Bill Clinton was always just a big deal in our household,” said Jasmine Mirelez, 19, of Rancho Cucamonga. “We had, like, a (budget) surplus then. That sounds really great.”
Years of state budget cuts have led to soaring tuition and reduced course offerings at California’s two- and four-year colleges. Undergraduate tuition in the UC system is $12,191 this year, not including room, board, books or campus fees.
Like many of the students at Tuesday’s rally, Mirelez, a registered Democrat, will be voting in her first presidential election this November.
Sachin Radhakrishnan, 21, who is registered independent and has not yet decided who he will vote for as president, said hearing Clinton was nonetheless appealing and is likely to be one of the biggest events on campus this fall. He said his father gave him one of Clinton’s books to read when he was younger.
“He’s able to draw a crowd, conservatives and liberals … It’s just that universal appeal,” said Radhakrishnan, of Cupertino.
Bringing that kind of broader appeal also is now required of California’s congressional candidates, after the independent citizens commission drew political boundaries without regard to party registration or incumbency.
Among those facing a new electorate this year is Garamendi, a Democratic incumbent who is running in a newly drawn district that stretches north of the state capital. While the former state lawmaker and attorney general has high name recognition, he is locked in a tight race with Republican challenger Kim Vann, a 37-year-old county supervisor and member of a local ranching family.
In the San Joaquin Valley to the south, Democrats have been on the attack against Republican Ricky Gill, a 25-year-old law school graduate who works for his family business in Lodi and has substantial financial support from well-connected Republicans and the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Gill has attempted to paint McNerney as a pawn of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, while McNerney criticizes the Republican’s lack of real-world work experience.
The districts drawn by the voter-approved independent citizens redistricting commission are in effect on a statewide scale for the first time this year. The new process ended decades of legislative gerrymandering that created safe districts for incumbents and led to little turnover.