Saying the actions of the Republican incumbents have put their seats in danger, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report shifted its ratings of the election contests in two Southern California districts toward Democrats on Friday.
Though the general election is 13 months away, potential challengers and donors take a long look at such ratings when they are deciding where to spend their money.
Nine California Republican-held congressional districts are being closely watched as Democrats try to secure the seats they need to win back the House in the 2018 midterms.
Most surprising is the move in the 48th Congressional District, represented by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa, from "lean Republican" to "toss-up."
Cook political analyst David Wasserman called the seat one of Democrats' best pick-up opportunities in California, saying Rohrabacher may have had a long career, but "his recent sympathetic comments towards Russia and strange interactions with Julian Assange and internet conspiracy theorist Chuck Johnson could amount to self-sabotage in a district President Trump narrowly lost."
In August, Rohrabacher met with Assange, who founded WikiLeaks, and said Assange assured him that Russia did not steal emails from the Democratic National Committee. Rohrabacher has said he's been denied a meeting with Trump to discuss asylum for Assange in exchange for the information he heard.
Rohrabacher, who has picked up quite a few challengers, is ranked No. 4 on The Times' list of toughest races.
Other Southern California Republicans in the toss-up category are Reps. Steve Knight of Palmdale and Darrell Issa of Vista.
Cook on Friday also moved Rep. Duncan Hunter's 50th Congressional District from "solid Republican" to "likely Republican," a minor shift that signals Wasserman still believes Hunter of Alpine will win but that he's on shakier ground.
Wasserman pointed to an ongoing FBI investigation into allegations Hunter's campaign spent contributions for his family's personal use, saying "it would take the combination of a Democratic wave and an indicted GOP incumbent to put a seat as Republican as this one anywhere near the competitive radar, but that may be where things are headed."
Hunter is No. 8 on The Times' rankings.
FOR THE RECORD
Oct. 16, 12:55 p.m.: An earlier version of this article stated that the Cook Political Report moved Rep. Duncan Hunter's district was moved to "likely Republican" to "solid Republican." It was moved from "solid Republican" to "likely Republican."