Democrats Want 1st Congressional District Seat, But Can They Get It?

Jan 26, 2018

So packed was the room, that forty minutes into the meeting, aspiring candidates had to prop open both doors to the outside with garbage cans to let in the cool night air.

Coming less than a week after the national Women’s March buoyed opponents to President Trump, enthusiasm was high at the Chico library where the crowd gathered to parse four prospective Democrats looking to win the seat of California’s 1st Congressional District.

There was the attorney from Auburn, Jessica Holcombe:

“They’re stealing from us! They’re taking our Medicare, they are taking our Medicaid, and we know that Social Security is on the chopping block.” 

The human rights advocate from Chico, Audrey Denny:

“This seat has been red for a long time, and it’s going to take a different type of candidate to turn this red seat blue.”

The environmental scientist from Quincy, Marty Walters:

Walters “We have this independent streak here, and we have a lot of people who choose to live here because it is a little out of the way, but we have issues that really cross all of those lines.”

And the filmmaker and rancher from Siskiyou County, Larry Jordan:

“Standing on that corner I was thinking: ‘How odd it is that all of these people can be in the same place? And then how do you represent those people? How do you — what position do you take that encompasses every one of these points of view.’”

But despite recent voting system reforms, and all of the murmurings by political pundits of a rising blue wave across the nation potentially sweeping Democrats into a house majority, experts believe that current North State incumbents — Republicans Doug LaMalfa and Tom McClintock, along with Democrats John Garamendi and Jared Huffman can all, barring major scandal, cakewalk to re-election. 

Eric McGhee is a research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California,

“There are a number of competitive seats around the state, where people think there might be a real contest,” McGhee said.

But none of them are in the North State.

And that’s after California voters blew up the political party primary. Now, the spring primary election weeds out all but the two people garnering the most votes, regardless of party. Promoted as a way to favor more moderate candidates, McGhee said there’s evidence that it’s starting to work in the state legislature.

A bolder reform, an anti-gerrymandering push, put a non-partisan commission in charge of drawing voting districts. That stripped a power previously held by the legislature and historically used to punish whichever party was in the minority.

“The redistricting reform did make the congressional district in particular significantly more competitive than they were, they were really uncompetitive,” he said.

And although a main priority was keeping cities and counties in the same districts, it hasn’t really moved the needle locally. Although the district's lines have changed, the bulk of what is now LaMalfa's district hasn't sent a Democrat to the house since 1973. Although registered Democrats suddenly slightly outnumber registered Republicans in Butte and Nevada counties, Republicans still have a two to one advantage among registered voters in Shasta County. Overall, the number of voters registered Republican still outnumber Democrats in the district by more than 10 percent. 

“The question is really sort of, is the whole plan competitive,” he said. “And the whole plan is competitive, it just doesn’t, it just so happens that the, most of the competitive seats are not up in the far northern area of the state.”

The reason for that, is simple.

“California is a state that where Republicans live in some places and Democrats live in others, McGhee said. “And there’s not a whole lot of overlap between the two and so there’s some areas of the state where it’s just impossible to draw a competitive district.”

The widely respected Washington D.C.-based, Cook Political Report, rates LaMalfa, McClintock, Garamendi and Huffman all as having a solid hold on their seats. The nearest close race, just like in the last three elections is the suburban Sacramento district currently held by Ami Bera.

Another forum featuring the four prospective Democrats looking to win the 1st Congressional District seat is scheduled to be held in at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Chico Women’s Club.