Thursday, August 4, 2011

Riverside Press Enterprise: Redistricting opens opportunites in Riverside area

Democrats look to capitalize on remapped Inland districts

Sacramento Bureau 
10:00 PM PDT on Wednesday, August 3, 2011
SACRAMENTO - On paper, last week's preliminary remap of legislative and congressional districts in Inland Southern California is full of promise for would-be Democratic candidates and caucuses next year.
But favorable voter registration and election statistics in the new Inland districts could be trumped by Democrats' longtime struggles to compete in a region where Republicans have been dominant.

Democrats lack a robust donor and volunteer network in the area, particularly in western Riverside County. The supply of well-known contenders is shallow, with most announced or rumored Democratic candidates for 2012 having multiple election defeats.

"I think we have the partisan numbers there to elect good candidates. But unlike some other regions of the state, there is not a deep bench to go to to get those nominees," said Paul Mitchell, a Sacramento-based Democratic political consultant.

The situation resonates in Sacramento, where Democrats' chances of reaching two-thirds majorities in the state Senate or Assembly next year depend on winning at least some of the new Inland seats. And in Congress, Democratic gains in California could help to reduce or end Republicans' House majority.

Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge, perhaps the area's best-known Democrat, sounded less than optimistic about the party's prospects locally.

"You can't beat somebody with nobody," Loveridge said. "It's hard to identify Democrats here for elective office."

Loveridge, who will soon turn 73, said he will not run for any of the new districts.

"Unless (Loveridge) is cloning himself, we're going to have to take someone who does not have solid name recognition or a base and build them up," Mitchell said of the new Riverside County districts.

In San Bernardino County, Democrats serve in the Assembly, Senate and Congress.
But the last time a Democrat won partisan office in western Riverside County was in 1990.

The plans unveiled last Friday by the Citizens Redistricting Commission still face lawsuits or a referendum challenge after their expected ratification Aug. 15.

For now, the maps include three congressional districts, one state Senate district, and three Assembly districts in Riverside and San Bernardino counties that could go either way at election time, based on their voter registration.

The Public Policy Institute of California estimates that a district is a "swing" seat when Democrats have a registration advantage of less than 10 percent or Republicans have a registration edge of less than 5 percent.

"We're not thinking so much about our districts yet," said Kenneth Hampton, chairman of the Riverside County Democratic Party. "Our concentration right now is getting people registered and getting them to vote."

The California Democratic Party has gotten involved, hiring organizers to lead an effort to sign up thousands of voters in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The effort is focused on places where the Latino citizen voting-age population in the 2010 census significantly exceeds the number of Latino registered voters.

"The strength of this project is that it benefits Democrats' chances in the region, regardless of how the new lines are drawn," state party spokesman Tenoch Flores said.
Republican leaders contend the GOP has a logistical head start in the region.

"You look at the numbers right now and it looks like Democrats have a slight advantage," said Ken Minesinger, chairman of the Riverside County Republican Party. "The advantage we have is that we have a farm team that is pretty strong. We have an active volunteer and donor base."

Minesinger added that Republicans soon will launch their own registration push in the competitive districts.


Democrats planning to run in 2012 include some familiar names.

Riverside community college trustee Mark Takano has announced for a congressional district that includes Riverside, Moreno Valley and Perris. Takano narrowly lost to Rep. Ken Calvert in 1992 and lost again in 1994.

Former college trustee Jose Medina has announced he is running for an Assembly district that includes the eastern half of Riverside, Moreno Valley and Perris. He lost races for the Assembly in 2000 and 2010.

And former Assemblyman Steve Clute has talked to local Democrats about running for the proposed state Senate seat that wraps from Corona to Perris. After leaving the Assembly in 1992, Clute lost races for Congress in 1994 and for the Assembly in 1996 and in 2006.
Clute could not be reached for comment this week.

Medina acknowledged that Democrats have struggled locally in recent years. The new maps change everything, he said. "I think Democrats should be very encouraged with these numbers," he said.

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