Debt Limit, Mapping and 2012: Connecting the Dots

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It’s too early to tell how important an issue the debt-ceiling vote will be in the 2012 elections, but, certainly, politicians see it as a factor in this brave, new political world.

And, once again, Californians are charting a course separate from the national trend.

In November 2010, when the rest of the country seemed to be turning bright red and Democrats nationally lost 63 U.S. House seats, none of California’s 53 seats (34 Democrats, 19 Republicans) switched parties.

That was the last election held under Congressional district lines drawn after the 2000 census.

Next year, California Congressional elections will likely be held using new district lines—less partial to entrenched incumbents, more competitive, and governed by the new “top-two” primary law that, unlike the “closed” primary, does not necessarily reward hard partisanship.

Might that change the political behavior of incumbents forced to face each other on unsecured turf or to move into new, open districts in order to survive politically?

Are there any clues in the votes of the California delegation on the eleventh-hour compromise to raise the debt ceiling?

Hardly ever can political behavior be attributed to just one vote, but, for fun, let’s take a look.

Potentially, the most brutal battle will occur in the West San Fernando Valley’s CD 30, where Democratic registration is about 25 points higher than Republicans’.

Two incumbents, Democratic Representatives Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, will likely duke it out.

Both voted in favor of the debt-ceiling bill, along with 11 other Democratic incumbents (or 39% of the CA Democratic delegation). Nationally, Democratic Congressmembers split down the middle, 95-95).

In Merced County’s new CD 16, an open seat, the Democratic registration edge is 15 points and a fight is shaping up between two more Democratic incumbents, Dennis Cardoza and Jim Costa.

Costa voted “Yes” on the debt-limit bill; Cardoza voted “No,” along with 19 (or 60.6%) of his California Democratic colleagues.

In CD44, a heavily African-American seat whose registration is nearly 2/3 Democratic, a fight is brewing between newly-elected Rep. Janice Hahn (D- San Pedro) and Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Long Beach).

Both voted “No” on the debt-ceiling bill

These three cases don’t necessarily prove anything, but –not surprisingly--there appears to be some relationship between district demographics and the candidates’ stance on the debt-limit.

The GOP roll call is even more interesting.

Nationally, 174 Congressional Republicans (72.5% of GOP members) voted “Yes” on the debt ceiling compromise and 66 (27.5%) voted “No.”

For California’s GOP delegation, the numbers are 16 (84%) “Yes” and 3 (16%) “No.”

CD39 is an Orange County district in which Republicans out-number Democrats by 8% and "Decline to State" voters (who tended to favor a compromise) account for 1 of 5 voters.

Two conservative Republicans, Reps. Ed Royce and Gary Miller, are set to face off in a primary. Both voted in favor of the debt-limit compromise.

Ditto incumbents Dan Lungren (R-East Sac. Co.) in CD7, a classic swing district, Jerry Lewis (R-San Bernardino), who could face a Tea Party challenger in CD8--a new, safe Republican district, and David Dreier, who could run in CD31, another San Bernardino-based district, in which the Democrats have a slight 4% registration edge.

California Republican representatives don’t seem to be all that worried about Tea Party backlash.

They appear to recognize that moving toward the center makes sense in the state’s new districts and open primary system.

We don’t yet know the long-term winners and losers in the debt ceiling debacle. It is just one of many thorny votes that will confront lawmakers as they slog through a legislative minefield into the 2012 elections.

That’s particularly true in California, where competition has returned to the electoral arena.

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