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Obama's Coat Tails Could Help California Democrats

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    NEWSLETTERS

    If the latest research is anywhere close to the mark, President Barack Obama will romp through California on Nov. 6. The most recent Field Poll has Obama over Republican opponent Mitt Romney by a whopping 58 percent to 34 percent.

    That portends a landslide.

    But the real benefit for the Democrats may lie with victories that accompany Obama's win.

    Increasingly, it appears that the turnout may be uneven. Republicans are frustrated here with a candidate and campaign that are more depressing by the day, which suggests they're growing disinterested in the election. Meanwhile, Democrats have found that long-missing "enthusiasm" factor, opening the way for a high level of political participation on Nov. 6.

    These circumstances set the stage for previously unexpected benefits in races farther down the ticket, particularly congressional contests.

    Democrats need 25 seats to regain their House majority. Given the mood in California, it may well be that they pick up five of these seats here.

    In the Seventh Congressional District currently held by Incumbent Republican Dan Lungren, Democrats and Republicans are almost even in party registration, 38.6 percent versus 38.8 percent. That provides an opening for Democrat Ami Bera, who challenged Lungren two years ago.

    In the 10th Congressional District currently in the hands of Republican incumbent Jeff Denham, there are more Democrats than Republicans, 40.4 percent versus 38.6 percent, providing an opportunity for former astronaut Jose Hernandez.

    And there are other opportunities for Democrats.

    In the 26th Congressional District, Republican Tony Strickland defeated Julia Brownley handily in the June primary, but the registration in this once-Republican district has come to favor Democrats, 40.2 percent to 35.7 percent.

    In the 41st Congressional District held by retiring Republican Jerry Lewis, Republican John Tavaglione defeated Democrat Mark Takano by 8 points in June. But the party registration now stands at 43 percent Democrat versus 34.7 percent Republican.

    Finally, a look at the 52nd Congressional District suggests trouble for Republican incumbent Brian Bilbray.  Although he defeated Democrat Scott Peters in June by 20 nearly 20 points, Democrats have edged ahead in registration 35.6 percent to 32.5 percent.

    Normally, close registration numbers favor Republicans because Democrats tend to turn out in lower percentages.

    But 2012 may prove to be an exception as the Romney campaign continues to implode with major gaffes one week after another.

    Is it a done deal for Obama and the Democrats? Anything but. A poor debate performance or an unexpected crisis could turn things around quickly. Nevertheless, time is running out, and time is the one commodity in a campaign that you can never get back.

    It's not just whether Obama wins in California; it's how many Democratic candidates he brings with him. And right now, it looks like he may bring a handful more than anyone ever expected.   

    Larry Gerston teaches political science at San Jose State University and is the political analyst for NBC Bay Area.

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