Grading California’s Congressional Map

Photograph by Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo

California Citizens Redistricting Commission member Vincent Barabba, left, watches as Secretary of State Debra Bowen certifies one of the new legislative and congressional maps in Sacramento, Calif., in this file photo.

The California congressional district map used for the Nov. 6 election was the first crafted by an independent redistricting commission. The idea was to draw more compact and competitive districts than the map it is superseding, a document drawn by partisan state legislators to protect incumbents in both parties.

So how did the commission-drawn map perform?

It certainly helped produce unusually large turnover in the delegation. The 53-member House contingent taking office next month includes 14 freshmen. The members departing through retirement or defeat together have more than 200 years of service.

Democrats won 38 of 53 seats, a net increase of four, and President Barack Obama carried 41 districts to 12 for Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Obama beat Romney by 60 percent to 37 percent statewide.

California is “a very blue state, and it becomes more so as the electorate becomes more minority,” Gary Jacobson, a political scientist at The University of California at San Diego, said in an interview.

Democrats probably will target the three Republicans in 2014 who won on Nov. 6 in districts Obama also carried.

Democrats didn’t even have a candidate in the San Bernardino-based 31st District because Rep. Gary Miller and another Republican won the two general election berths in the “top-two” primary in June. Miller’s district gave 57 percent to Obama.

Democrats probably will target Rep.-elect David Valadao, who won with 58 percent in a Central Valley-based district where 55 percent voted Obama. Democratic candidate recruitment faltered there.

Freshman Jeff Denham took 53 percent in a Modesto-area district that went to Obama with 51 percent.

All 38 Democrats who won Nov. 6 will represent districts Obama carried, though some of them will be pressed for re-election in 2014.

They include Reps.-elect Ami Bera of the Sacramento-area 7th District, Scott Peters of the San Diego-area 52nd District and Raul Ruiz of the 36th District in and around Palm Springs. All three unseated Republican incumbents in districts that Obama won with 51 or 52 percent.

“There are going to be some more competitive races coming up,” Jacobson said. “Democrats won’t have the president on the top of the ticket coming up in 2014, and turnout is likely to be lower among Democratic constituencies.”

Seven Democrats and two Republicans won their House seats with less than 55 percent of the vote. The total includes Democrat Eric Swalwell, who unseated 20-term Democrat Pete Stark, and 19-term Democrat Henry Waxman, who fended off a challenge from a wealthy independent.

The winning presidential nominee’s margin of victory was fewer than 10 points in seven of 53 districts, including those won by Denham, Bera, Ruiz and Peters. Veteran Republican incumbents Buck McKeon, Ed Royce and Darrell Issa represent the other three districts, which all voted for Romney.

McKeon’s district, which includes parts of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties in southern California, was the closest in the state in the presidential balloting, backing Romney by 50 percent to 48 percent.

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