Letters From The Editor: Feet to the Fire Forum will screen Assembly candidates

California's gerrymandered legislative districts make for predictable elections.

The districts are Volvo safe. Voter registration dictates which party will win, making the primaries the only real "contests." The winner is nearly always the incumbent.

But redistricting lends a little excitement every decade or so. Now is one of those times.

Consider the newly redrawn 74th Assembly District, a swath that jogs through Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Irvine and Laguna Beach. Each of the three politicians in the race has agreed to participate in the Feet to the Fire Forum on April 5, which will I will host, along with Orange County Register columnist Barbara Venezia, Daily Pilot columnist Jack Wu, Current General Manager Tom Johnson, Voice of OC Editor Norberto Santana Jr. and Newport Beach Independent Editor Roger Bloom.

Unlike our previous two forums, the journalists will actually outnumber the candidates: Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa), Newport Beach Councilwoman Leslie Daigle, a Republican, and Newport Beach real estate investor Bob Rush, a Democrat.

This is a tough race to handicap, but it's safe to say that Mansoor enjoys the power of incumbency, even if the redrawn district is different than the one to which he was elected.

But because Mansoor has been in Sacramento only for a short time, the electorate will likely be more influenced by his record on the Costa Mesa City Council. Social conservatives who supported his strong views on illegal immigration can probably be counted on to vote for him again, just as liberals and moderates are likely to go against him for the same reasons. He also has a good deal of backing from the Republican establishment.

But Mansoor doesn't have a lock on Newport. Though incumbency is always the greatest advantage, voters there could very well support their hometown councilwoman. Daigle is more moderate than Mansoor, but a Newport moderate is, generally, still pretty conservative.

From what those watching the race say, Daigle's a conservative willing to play ball with Democrats — the only way to get anything done in the Legislature. Mansoor is viewed as a reliable "no" vote for the Republicans who is unlikely to bend left when needed.

I can see conservatives in Huntington Beach going for Mansoor, but that is something of a toss-up because there are enough folks in Surf City concerned with water quality who may pick Daigle, who has a good record on cleaning up the bay.

Don't discount Rush in Huntington Beach, though, which is getting fed up with a proliferation of rehabilitation homes — Rush's signature issue as an activist in Newport. He is a quality-of-life candidate and is known for challenging authority as a council critic; that will appeal to those who don't like to see their coastal cities changing.

And there are Democrats who will never vote for candidates with an "R" after their name, so I see Rush doing well with most of them throughout the 74th, particularly in Laguna Beach, where many find it unthinkable to support a GOP candidate, and possibly in Irvine, where Democrats have won plenty of local contests.

Though there are pockets, Irvine is hardly liberal, so Rush and Daigle could be left fighting for moderates and independents, and then Daigle and Mansoor will be fighting for traditional conservatives.

That scenario — Rush and Daigle splitting moderates — could work in Mansoor's favor, at least in June. But if Daigle makes the runoff against Mansoor in November, then the race is anyone's guess. If Rush makes the runoff, I'd posit that voter registration, which tilts Republican, will clear the path for Mansoor.

But that's just an armchair analysis. This is a hard one to forecast, and upsets are always possible. But hopefully this gives you some insight into why our panel views this as a race worthy of our third community forum.

The Feet to the Fire Forum will take place at 6:30 p.m. April 5 at the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Community Center, 1845 Park Ave. It will also be recorded and broadcast later on local cable stations.

JOHN CANALIS is the editor of Times Community News South. He can be reached at (714) 966-4607 and john.canalis@latimes.com.

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