At a recent reception in their honor, four of California's Democratic freshman House members posed for photos and beamed at well-wishers. But signs of the battles they face were hard to miss.
Asked by a fellow politician how his reelection campaign was going, Rep.
The same answer could have come from any of the honorees.
FOR THE RECORD:
Congressional candidates: In the March 18 LATExtra section, an article about Democratic California House members who face tough reelection campaigns gave the first name of Republican
, who is challenging Rep.
, as Susan. —
Although the rest of their first-term colleagues occupy seats in strongly Democratic districts, for these four, California's deep blue hue looks more like pale violet. Almost from the day they got elected, they have been in the sights of a
In the 2012 elections, Peters,
Without a presidential race to spur Democratic turnout — historically lower than the GOP's in such elections — and with minuscule registration differences between the two major parties in their districts, the freshman
"The key will be what kind of opponents they end up with" in the fall, said Gary C. Jacobson, a UC San Diego political scientist. If those rivals are "Republicans who appeal to moderates, they will be formidable."
"The core Republican constituency in California tends to be pretty far to the right, so party leaders are going to have to throw their weight behind the most [broadly] attractive candidates" if they hope to prevail in the fall, Jacobson said.
In Bera's 7th District in the Sacramento suburbs, three Republicans are running: Susan Emken, an autism activist who made a lopsided challenge to Sen.
Birman is generally viewed as the most conservative of the three and has drawn support from such groups as the Conservative Victory Fund and Gun Owners of America.
Peters, who narrowly ousted Republican Rep.
The Peters campaign expects to square off with him in the fall. Trauma surgeon/businessman Fred J. Simon Jr. and military officer/businessman Kirk Jorgensen also are on the ballot.
DeMaio narrowly lost to former congressman
"He has very high name recognition, and he's getting national publicity as one of the few gay Republicans running," said Maryanne Pintar, who is taking a leave from her job heading Peters' district office to join the campaign.
"Scott has broad crossover appeal and he is the moderate in the race," Pintar said, adding, "We know it will be a tough race, but we feel good about" Peters' prospects.
Three Republicans and a candidate unaffiliated with any party are challenging Brownley for her Ventura County-based 26th District seat. Best known is Assemblyman
Real estate firm owner Rafael Dagnesses, a former police officer, counts among his supporters Assemblyman Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita), perhaps raising Democratic hopes for a GOP fight that would leave that party's top vote-getter bloodied.
The others are perennial candidate Timothy Charles Kalemkarian, a Republican, and unaffiliated Pepperdine law professor Doug Kmiec.
Unlike Brownley and Peters, Ruiz was a political novice when he beat Rep.
This year, former state legislator
With a short history in elected office, Ruiz is going to have to work especially hard to let residents know what he has done for them. In addition, he and the others must "make a case to voters they are a strong independent voice for their constituents," said Darry Sragow, a longtime Democratic strategist.
All four embattled Democrats will need to figure out ways to win voters outside the party without alienating those within it to the point that they stay home on election day, Sragow said.
Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, which tracks elections, said the major parties won't decide where to put their resources until well after the primary.
"No one really knows what the temper of the times will be then, or who the [fall] candidates will be," Hoffenblum said.
On the flip side, Rep.