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RealClearPolitics Politics Nation Blog

 

Blog Home Page --> House -- California -- 12

Special In CA Favors Dems

Voters in California today head to the polls to select a replacement for the late Rep. Tom Lantos, who died in February after a battle with cancer. That race is unlikely to make national news, as former State Senator Jackie Speier, a Democrat, is expected to easily carry the seat, based just south of San Francisco, as Roll Call's David Drucker writes.

The district includes the southwest part of San Francisco and several counties along the coast, and though it was once a base from which California Republicans could build around the Bay Area, it is now solidly Democratic. Lantos won his initial election, in 1980, with 46% of the vote and his re-election bid with 57%. Since then, he never dipped below 65%. Democratic presidential nominees carried the seat with 67% in 2000 and 72% in 2004.

Speier, who was forced out of the legislature by term limits, came within three points of securing the Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor that year, narrowly losing to now-LG John Garamendi. She faces health official Michelle McMurry, a Democrat, and former Public Utilities Commissioner Greg Conlon and economist Mike Moloney, both Republicans. Moloney took 24% of the vote against Lantos in 2006.

Once an aide to the late Rep. Leo Ryan, Speier was wounded when the congressman led a delegation to Jonestown, the cult colony in Guyana in 1978. Ryan was replaced in a special election by a Republican, who in turn lost to Lantos in 1980. Speier had already planned to run for the seat before Lantos announced he would retire, and was touting a poll showing her ahead of the incumbent by a wide margin.

Lantos Passes Away At 80

Long-time Democratic Representative Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in Congress, died this morning at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center in Maryland, the Associated Press reports. He was 80 years old.

Born in Budapest, Lantos was one of those protected by Raoul Wallenberg before landing in the United States. After earning his Ph.D. from the University of Washington, Lantos taught in a San Francisco university before winning election to Congress in 1980. A foreign policy expert, Lantos took over chairing the House Foreign Affairs Committee when Democrats took charge this year.

Earlier this year, Lantos announced he had cancer of the esophagus and that he would not seek re-election. Known for his dedication to human rights -- he founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in 1983 -- Lantos never lost his thick Hungarian accent and the respect of colleagues on both sides of the aisle. He is survived by his wife, his two daughters and their 18 grandchildren.

Once a divided district, Lantos' 12th Congressional District, which includes the Southwest tip of San Francisco and several suburbs along the coast, is now safely Democratic. John Kerry won by 45 points in 2004, while Al Gore carried the district by 38 in 2000. After winning his first term by a narrow margin, Lantos did not face serious opposition through the rest of his career.

Lantos' reitirement announcement prompted former State Senator Jackie Speier to begin making serious moves toward a campaign, though it appeared she had planned to challenge Lantos in a primary. State Senator Leland Yee had also reportedly been considering a bid, though no announcement has been forthcoming. The winner of the district's June 3 Democratic primary is likely to win the general election easily.

Three More Members Call It Quits

The retirement announcement today from California Republican John Doolittle is the latest in a series of retirements to strike both parties this year. Nineteen Republicans and four Democrats announced last year they would not run for reelection in the House of Representatives. Now, ten days into 2008, three more congressmen have already stated their intentions to retire.

Doolittle's decision to step down, under investigation for a congressional lobbying scandal, comes a week after Democrat Tom Lantos and Republican John Peterson announced their retirements. The latter two, however, were likely to win reelection had they decided to run again.

Doolittle on the other hand narrowly escaped defeat in the 2006 election, winning less than 50% of the vote in a district that gave President Bush 61% in 2004. Doolittle's close ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, along with his wife's questionable work as a fundraiser for his own campaign, allowed his Democratic opponent, Charlie Brown, to attack Doolittle's ethics.

Then in April 2007, Doolittle's Virginia home was raided by FBI agents investigating his wife's work for Abramoff. Doolittle stepped down from his Appropriations Committee seat at the urging of House GOP leadership, but announced he would not resign. With the legal investigation likely to continue through the next election and legal bills mounting, his reelection prospects were not bright.

Before Doolittle even got to the general, he would have faced a tough battle for the GOP nomination. Republicans now planning to run include Air Force reservist Eric Egland, Assemblyman Ted Gaines, State Senator Rico Oller and Mike Holmes, who won 33% in the 2006 primary against Doolittle.

In the Bay Area 12th Congressional District, Lantos announced his retirement after a recent diagnosis of cancer. His district, along with Peterson's, are not likely to be as competitive in the general election as Doolitte's seat. But interesting primary battles could surface.

Lantos, now in his 14th term and the only Holocaust survivor to ever serve in Congress, has regularly won reelection in the 12th District with around 70% of the vote, usually against underfunded, token opposition. This ethnically-diverse district includes parts of San Francisco and has been Democratic territory since the late 1950s.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that two Democrats are already considering a run: State Senator Leland Yee and former State Senator Jackie Speier. Speier had gone as far as to begin raising money for a bid against Lantos; a poll conducted for her campaign in early November showed her leading the incumbent by a 30-point margin.

Yee, the only Chinese-American ever elected to the California Senate, succeeded Speier in the 8th Senate district after she ran an unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor, losing in the Democratic primary by 3 points. Speier, who represented the district for eight years, was once an aide to Congressman Leo Ryan, and accompanied him on the tragic 1978 fact-finding mission to the Jonestown cult compound of the Rev. Jim Jones. Ryan was killed, and Speier was shot five times.

These two well-known candidates should both put up competitive campaigns, and the person who wins the June 3 primary will likely also win in November.

In Pennsylvania, the vast 5th District has been Republican territory since the founding of the party. It encompasses about a quarter of the state geographically, including State College, home of Penn State University's main campus, and Punxsutawney, home of the most famous thing named Phil in the world. In 2006 Peterson won 60% of the vote against his first Democratic challenger since coming to Congress in 1996, when he easily won the open seat.

Peterson's retirement announcement caught many prospective Republican candidates by surprise, the Centre Daily Times wrote. The most likely to run is State Senator Jake Corman, a third-term legislator whose district shares two of the same counties as the 5th. One other Republican name to keep in mind is State Senator Joseph Scarnati, who has feuded over transportation issues with Peterson. However, Scarnati is up for reelection this year and may not want to give up his leadership position for the chance to run for Congress. If a competitive primary ensues, a Peterson endorsement could tip the scales.

A few Democrats will likely file for this seat, but the national party is unlikely to help much financially for a district with such a Republican tilt. The DCCC's money may be better spent on districts more likely to flip, and defending districts that flipped in 2006.

-- Kyle Trygstad