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Competitive California congressional races attract millions

PoliticsElectionsDemocratic PartyRepublican PartyJerry BrownScott PetersEd Royce

Highly competitive congressional races in California, attracting interest across the nation, were already drawing many millions of dollars in donations even before the election year began, according to new campaign reports.

From the Bay Area to San Diego, at least nine candidates for the House of Representatives reported raising more than $1 million in 2013, reflecting the tight nature of the races.

That's in stark contrast to statewide contests, where many incumbents face token opposition. Still, underscoring the Democratic Party's dominance in California, those officials — not a Republican among them — made huge hauls.

The reports, filed for a midnight deadline Friday, also highlight a potential initiative on medical malpractice payouts that promises a costly battle if it qualifies for the ballot. Pitting trial-lawyer proponents against healthcare providers and insurers, it would raise the limit on pain and suffering awards from $250,000 to $1 million.

The opponents have amassed $31.3 million in a financial show of force. But the money is almost entirely in loans, and the contributors can retract the money if the proposal does not make the ballot.

Supporters have in the bank about one-tenth of what their rivals have, but their money is all cash.

Chris Lehane, a political strategist working with proponents, said raising loans is "one of the oldest tricks in the book," and it remains to be seen whether the opposition follows through with big money.

"At the end of the day, if you're going to talk the talk, you've got to walk the walk," he said.

Jim DeBoo, campaign manager for the opposition, said the loans show how seriously healthcare providers and their allies are taking the issue.

"It's not a scare tactic," he said. "It's reality."

The congressional fray shows close competition in nearly every corner of the state. The national political parties are targeting several of the races, making more cash and other support likely in coming months, ahead of the June primary.

Republicans hope to capitalize on a year when Democratic voter turnout will not be as high as it was when President Obama was at the top of the ticket. Democrats hope demographic changes in longtime Republican corridors will help them flip traditionally red seats to blue.

Democrats at risk include Rep. Raul Ruiz in Palm Springs, Rep. Scott Peters in San Diego and Rep. Ami Bera in Sacramento. Each raised well over $1 million, as did Peters' main Republican opponent, Carl DeMaio.

Among the seats Republicans are trying to hold on to are the Central Valley seat held by Rep. Jeff Denham, who has nearly $1.3 million in the bank, and the Inland Empire seat of Rep. Gary Miller, who reported $910,450 on hand.

In Silicon Valley, where Democrat Ro Khanna is trying to knock off veteran Democrat Mike Honda, both sides raised more than $1 million.

Incumbents in leadership positions who face no serious opposition — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), and Republican Reps. Kevin McCarthy, the House majority whip, Darrell Issa and Ed Royce — also reported raising more than $1 million, money they could use to help colleagues in tight races.

Among statewide officials, Gov. Jerry Brown reported the biggest bank account — $17 million for his anticipated bid for a fourth term. Brown's report illustrated the unique advantages he has after a political career that has spanned six decades.

His incumbency, high name recognition and deep political connections mean he can avoid spending large sums on consultants and fundraisers. He reported just $208,000 in reelection-related expenses last year.

One of Brown's GOP challengers, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks), reported just $54,000 cash on hand as he entered the new year. The tea party favorite has been trying to compensate for his lack of financial resources by trying to build grass-roots support through bus tours across the state, one of which began Saturday, and through unusual online ads.

The other main Republican hoping to take Brown on in November, former U.S. Treasury official Neel Kashkari, did not have to file a financial disclosure because he did not officially enter the race until Jan. 21.

In other statewide races, Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom both reported raising large sums despite a lack of viable opposition.

Harris raised just over $2.5 million in 2013, with major support from the legal community, labor unions and Hollywood, including actress Halle Berry and movie mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Many strategists on both sides of the aisle believe Harris would be the most vulnerable statewide official if a credible opponent emerged. She reported spending more than $800,000 last year, mostly on polling and political consultants.

Newsom reported $1.3 million in the bank at the beginning of the year.

Two statewide posts that are being vacated by termed-out Democrats showed more competition.

In the controller contest, Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) reported $1.8 million cash on hand. He was once a union organizer, and much of his funding came from labor. Rival Betty Yee of San Francisco, a Democratic member of the state Board of Equalization, had $502,000 socked away.

In the crowded field for secretary of state, California's chief election officer, state Sens. Alex Padilla (D-Los Angeles) and Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) topped all others, with each reporting well over $500,000 in their campaign accounts at the end of the year.

Campaign finance reform advocate Derek Cressman reported $196,000 in the bank, and Republican academic Pete Peterson had $2,210. Dan Schnur, a former GOP political strategist who went on to head the Fair Political Practices Commission and teach at USC, announced his nonpartisan campaign at the beginning of 2014 so was not required to file a report.

In the Legislature, with Democrats hoping to hold on to their supermajority and Republicans clamoring to break it, a handful of races are likely to be hard-fought.

In two closely watched contests in the San Joaquin Valley, incumbent Republican Sens. Anthony Cannella and Andy Vidak hold early but significant leads in fundraising as they compete in two newly drawn districts targeted by Democratic leaders.

In one key Assembly race, Democratic incumbent Sharon Quirk-Silva of Fullerton is neck and neck in funds with one Republican challenger, Young Kim, a staffer in the district office of Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton).

Both report more than $300,000 in the bank.

seema.mehta@latimes.com

richard.simon@latimes.com

phil.willon@latimes.com

Times staff writers Melanie Mason, Patrick McGreevy, Chris Megerian, Anthony York in Sacramento and Jean Merl in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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PoliticsElectionsDemocratic PartyRepublican PartyJerry BrownScott PetersEd Royce
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