35 candidates vie for two open Southern California congressional seats that could help Democrats reclaim House

 
 Voters in Orange County will have dozens of candidates to choose from in four competitive congressional races. (Daniel Sofer, contributor)

Voters in Orange County will have dozens of candidates to choose from in four competitive congressional races. (Daniel Sofer, contributor)

 

The contests to replace two retiring Southern California Republican congressmen are staggeringly cluttered, with 35 candidates vying for seats that could help shift the balance of partisan power in Washington, D.C.

The 39th and 49th Congressional Districts – which combined include portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange, and San Diego counties – are targeted by national Democrats.

Incumbents Republican U.S. Representatives Ed Royce and Darrell Issa both announced in January they wouldn’t seek re-election, which attracted a rush of GOP candidates to races already filled with Democrats.

The crowded field, finalized after Wednesday’s filing deadline, could overwhelm voters, political scientists say.

“I think it’s going to be very confusing,” said Fullerton College political scientist Jodi Balma, adding that she couldn’t recall such a congested field in a California congressional race. “Open congressional seats are way rare. Having so many Republicans and so many Democrats, this is uncharted territory.”

The two districts both swung to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, giving Democrats hope of nabbing the historically-Republican territory and picking up two of the 23 seats they’ll need to take control of the House of Representatives. But the number of candidates could create scenarios in which Democrats split up the votes on their side of the aisle and fail to advance in November’s general election. The same possibility exists for Republicans.

In each contest, the top two vote-getters in the “jungle primary” advance regardless of party affiliation, making it possible for two Democrats or two Republicans to face off in November. Both parties made efforts before Wednesday’s filing deadline to slim the fields in the two races by encouraging candidates to drop out, with limited success.

Wednesday’s deadline marked the second time in a week that ballots were set for local house races, and it added to a glut of candidates running in local districts targeted for takeover by national Democrats. A total of 20 candidates are challenging sitting GOP Congress members Dana Rohrabacher and Mimi Walters in Orange County’s 48th and 45th congressional districts, respectively.

Issa’s open seat

In the 49th District – Issa’s current seat, which stretches from La Jolla to Dana Point – the ballot will include four Democrats, eight Republicans, and four third-party candidates.

Democrat Doug Applegate is running again after losing to Issa by 0.6 percent – 621 votes – in the closest House race of 2016. Other Democrats running are San Juan Capistrano environmental attorney Mike Levin, Encinitas former State Department official Sara Jacobs, and Rancho Santa Fe real estate invester Paul Kerr. None have held elected office, and Jacobs, Levin and Kerr are running for the first time.

On the other hand, Republicans have several current and former elected officials in the race, including Assemblyman Rocky Chávez of Oceanside, San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar of Encinitas, Board of Equalization member and former Assemblywoman Diane Harkey of Dana Point, and San Juan Capistrano Councilman Brian Maryott.

The other Republicans candidates are Dana Point neuroaudiologist Mike Schmitt, Carlsbad physician David Medway, patent attorney Joshua Schoonover, and Encinitas real estate appraiser Craig Nordal.

Also running are Libertarian candidate and Marine Corps veteran Joshua Hancock, and three other third-party contestants, including Peace and Freedom Party socialist candidate Jordan Mills and Green Party candidate Danielle St. John, who describes herself as a mother and activist.

Carlsbad ophthalmologist Robert Pendleton might be wooing animal lovers. He’s running under the “K9USA Party,” which he describes as “a philosophy of decision making based upon the attributes of dogs that make man’s best friend so special: unconditional love, simple needs, and readiness to defend.”

Royce’s district

In the race to replace retiring Rep. Ed Royce, R-Yorba Linda, two of the leading candidates in a large Democratic field dropped out shortly before the Wednesday filing deadline.

Phil Janowicz, a former chemistry professor who was the first Democrat to enter the race, built a strong grassroots following but had less success fundraising.

Jay Chen, a community college trustee, was among the last entries into the race but quickly built on his political experience in the area. While he fell short in an effort to win the state Democratic Party endorsement, he was the preferred choice of local Democrats participating in the process.

Janowicz and Chen both said they the dropped out because of concerns that too many Democrats in the race would increase the chances of two Republicans advancing to the November ballot.

“The probability of … Democrats squandering a historic opportunity is real,” Chen said.

The ballot is now set to feature eight Democrats, seven Republicans, two American Independents and two with No Party Preference in the 39th Congressional District. The district reaches from Orange County, which accounts for 64 percent of its registered voters, into Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.

The highest profile Democratic candidates to file, in terms of campaign activity and fundraising, are philanthropist and lottery winner Gil Cisneros, attorney Sam Jammal, businessman Andy Thorburn and pediatrician Mai Khanh Tran.

Other Democrats on the ballot will be Suzi Park Leggett, who is the widow of the late congressman Robert Leggett, businesswoman Camilla Kuo Liou, construction contractor Ted Ruskand educator Cybil Steed.

Republicans include former state legislators Bob Huff and Young Kim, Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, La Mirada Councilman Andrew Sarega and Brea Councilman Steven Vargas. The other Republican candidates are accountant John Cullum and businessman Phil Liberatore.

Also on the ballot are two candidates listed as American Independents, Ted Alemayhu, who calls himself as a “social entrepreneur,” and Sophia Alexander, a Navy veteran. And there are two candidates with No Party Preference, motorcycle journalist Steve Cox and Deputy District Attorney Karen Schatzle.

via OC Register.