New 'Jungle' Rules Throw Doubt Over Calif. House Elections

Tuesday, 05 Jun 2012 09:47 AM

By Martin Gould

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California’s new “jungle primaries” — where the top two vote-getters go through to the general election regardless of which party they represent — get their first test on Tuesday night.

And as redistricting in the nation’s biggest state was specially calculated to produce close races, several incumbents could be seeing the beginning of the end of their time in Congress.

Top of the list of those under threat is 20-term Democratic Rep. Pete Stark, the fifth-longest-serving member of the House of Representatives. The 80-year-old is facing a stiff challenge from Eric Swalwell, a Dublin City councilman who is less than half his age.

The district in the San Francisco Bay area has been redrawn so roughly half is new territory for Stark, who is fighting accusations of making false accusations against Swalwell in the campaign. Swalwell, 31, has made every attempt to try to show that the time has come for Stark to leave the House.

The toughest fight is likely in the San Fernando Valley where two Democrat incumbents, Howard Berman and Brad Sherman face off against each other. They are expected to end up as the top two, meaning a Democrat-versus-Democrat fight in November’s general election.

The pair have raised close to $8 million making it likely to be the most expensive House battle in the nation this year.

But it is not just Democrats who are facing tough fights. The GOP’s Rep. Gary Miller is in a dogfight with Republican state Sen. Bob Dutton in an Inland Empire area east of Los Angeles.

Other primaries that are being closely watched in the Golden State include:

• A Ventura County seat in which the Democrats suddenly see a chance as Republican Rep. Elton Gallegly is stepping down. Democrats have concentrated on supporting state Assemblywoman Julia Brownley in the hope that she can put up a fight against GOP state Sen. Tony Strickland in November.
• Two Democratic incumbents, Janice Hahn and Laura Richardson, going head-to-head in Compton. Hahn is expected to come out on top as Richardson is under an ethics investigation;
• A San Bernadino County seat in which eight Republicans are vying to replace retiring GOP Rep. Jerry Lewis;

The new system will be closely watched nationwide. "We've changed a few of the important rules of the game in California," Thad Kousser, a political scientist at UC San Diego told the Los Angeles Times.

"The question is whether changing the rules really changes the game when all the players are the same."

Voters in California also have to decide whether to institute a $1-a-pack increase on cigarettes, which has been bitterly fought by tobacco companies and tighter term limits for elected officials.

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