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Analysis: Could GOP flip Ami Bera’s House seat? Yep.

EDITOR’S NOTE (Nov. 11): Last evening, the Citizens Redistricting Commission released its fourth version of maps. Much can still change dramatically, but in the current iteration, Ami Bera’s district returns to being contained within Sacramento County with no Placer parts. So basically the map for Bera has now swung 180 twice. Stay tuned.

After publishing my redistricting update last week on the latest Congressional draft maps from the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, an alarmed Sacramento-area community activist emailed me. He expressed fear the 7th Congressional seat held for the last 10 years by Elk Grove’s corporate-backed Democrat Ami Bera could actually turn Republican in 2022.

I understood his concern, and with the latest round of map changes released Monday, news for Democrats like him went from bad to abysmal. Consider that in November 2020, Bera’s current district went +14 for Joe Biden, but the initial map changes released a couple weeks ago dropped this to just +4. Now with two more rounds of map revisions, this advantage has evaporated completely and is now -1, giving an extremely realistic path for flipping Bera’s seat red.

So despite the largely Democratic makeup of the Sacramento area, this would ignite the kind of culture war fight Republicans love to wage.

Mirroring this depressing prospect, the activist wrote, “The changes that move Bera’s district deeper into south Placer [County] make it even harder for our community to have a voice in Congress for a damn decade! It’s one thing to be ignored by corporate Democrats and do-nothing Democrats like Bera and [Doris] Matsui. It’s another altogether to [potentially] have the ultra-far-right dominate blue Sac County...”

This last was reference to a possible run against Bera by Republican State Assemblyman Kevin Kiley of Rocklin. Last Wednesday on his blog, Kiley noted, “I’ve been asked to consider running to help [Republicans] retake control of the House.” He then asked his supporters to let him know for which seat he should run in 2022: State Assembly, Governor or House of Representatives.

Kiley is ideologically linked to the far-right and in March was even a featured speaker at a rally co-organized by an individual who after the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection called for Americans to arm for civil war. Just as curiously, the California GOP chair Jessica Patterson also spoke at this event, as did other speakers with links to one of the largest U.S. hate groups, a militia, and QAnon.

Bera’s current CA-7 district (right) encompasses most of the suburban and unincorporated areas of Sacramento County. But the first draft map severely changed this. It lopped off the half of the district south of the American River and added in parts of conservative Placer County to the north like Roseville and Rocklin. The next two map drafts then added even more of Placer County, including Lincoln and Granite Bay. The present map would contain about 75% of Placer County’s population, or about 300,000 of the new district’s 762,000 residents.

In 2020, Donald Trump won Placer County by 6½ points (52.1% to 45.5%). But Biden won the Sacramento County portions within the newly proposed district by just 3½ points. Sacramento County would comprise about 60% of the district’s population, but despite this numeric advantage, Biden voters would still trail Trump voters by a few thousand based on 2020 numbers.

As an additional challenge, throughout Bera’s decade in Congress, he has consistently underperformed the natural Democratic voter registration advantages within the CA-7 and how Democratic presidential candidates in his district, as shown in this chart:

This underperformance would appear to further strengthen Kiley’s chances. That’s because Bera not only would need to overcome a slight red lean to the new district, but also find enough voters to overcome his normal underperformance among Democrats and independents.

For Democratic activists like the one who contacted me, nothing is more frustrating than this turn of events. Ten years ago, hundreds of similar activists banded together. With a big boost from the 2012 redistricting, they helped Bera narrowly defeat longtime Republican Dan Lungren and finally turn the district Democratic.

But for grassroot environmental, labor and other progressive volunteers, they discovered their support of Bera to be a very one-way. Bera would soon turn his back on many of their core issues and go all-in raising millions of dollars from rich special interests and corporations. This included from many of the most highly fined corporations in the nation and then backing their priorities in Congress.

Later, federal prosecutors revealed Bera’s first two campaigns in 2010 and 2012 benefited from hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign donations funneled to them by Bera’s father. Not coincidentally these funds helped dissuade other Democrats from attempting a primary challenge in the newly competitive district. Bera’s 80-year-old father ultimately went to jail, and Bera claimed ignorance of the entire scam, though it involved family, friends and other acquaintances.

All told, a Bera-Kiley matchup would set up one of the most expensive and negative races in the nation. It would pit undefendable corporate sponsorship of our political system against undefendable Trumplican extremism and fear-mongering. And the outcome will mostly turn on turnout and the 28% or so voters in the new district not registered as either a Democrat or Republican.

But the map is not yet final, and much could change before the California Citizens Redistricting Commission finalizes the map on Dec. 27. But if the boundaries stay similar to the current Placer-Sacramento County district, it will put Bera’s seat in full play and put on display some of the worst aspects of the current political system.

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