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New wrinkles in CA-3 Garamendi-Hamilton rematch

Last weekend, the Sacramento Bee scored a nice fundraising scoop about Republican Tamika Hamilton’s rematch attempt to upset 7-term U.S. Rep. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove). They noted, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings, Hamilton had outraised Garamendi in the second quarter of the year $103,000 to $99,377.

To outraise any sitting member of Congress is notable, though Garamendi did start the 2021-22 cycle with $1,125,542 war-chest advantage. This represented unspent funds from his 9-point victory over Hamilton in 2020. But as interesting as this single factoid was, the article left unexplored several other interesting aspects of this nascent race.

First, every FEC filing itemizes both donations received and expenditures made by the campaign. The Bee looked no further than the donations, but the expenditures side of the ledger was just as interesting. For instance, Hamilton actually spent most of that $103,000, banking just $13,000. By comparison, Garamendi banked roughly twice that amount to extend his financial advantage over Hamilton for the quarter.

Digging deeper, Hamilton’s camp spent most of the money on fundraising. So a fair question is what tactically did that six-figure second quarter achieve for Hamilton with a burn rate like that?

“We are not concerned. As you know in races like this, when trying to connect with new voters and donors, you have to spend money to make money,” Hamilton said. “Last cycle, I raised $400,000 total, and now we’ve raised more than $100,000 in the first few months. If that isn’t an indication of energy, I don’t know what is.”

Hamilton said another difference this election cycle is the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is targeting Garamendi as one of four California Democratic incumbents it hopes to defeat in 2022. The other three are Josh Harder of Turlock, Katie Porter in Orange County and Mike Levin north of San Diego.

Normally the biggest benefit of such party attention is national donations. So far only about $6,500 (or 5%) of her donations have come from out of state, but it is still very early. Plus, the hope is by posting a six-figure quarter this can generate national interest – and more out-of-state dollars.

Second, another significant variable in this race could be what happens with redistricting. California will go from 53 House districts to 52, and the California Citizens Redistricting Commission will release its preliminary Congressional district maps toward the end of this year. But most observers expect the one-seat loss to come from Southern California where the population changed the most. The Central Valley could experience some significant boundary shifts for a variety of court-driven reasons explained last month, but few big changes are expected in northern California.

However one exception could be Garamendi’s third district. In February, the Cook Political Report took a crack at a purely speculative 52-district map based on early census data and the commission’s legislative mapping priorities. Here’s what they came up (click to enlarge):

As expected, the Cook map doesn’t appear to contain anything that could shift partisan control of Northern California seats. However, the changes to Garamendi’s CA-3 seat – which Cook renumbers CA-5 after redistricting – would make it significantly more Democratic and liberal.

This would happen with the loss of more red Yuba and Sutter counties. The district’s part of solidly blue Solano County would also be lost. However, the district would more than make up for this blue loss by adding Napa County, the rest of Lake County and all of the City of Santa Rosa. Here’s a closer look at how the district map would change per the Cook conjecture:

Now this doesn’t fully add up to the 750,000 population needed, so more tweaking would be needed. But based on this, the district would jump 6 points in registered Dems up to almost 47% with Indie/NPP staying around 29%. The GOP share would drop from about to 24%.

In fact, the biggest benefit from a redistricting of this sort would go to any Progressive candidate weighing whether to challenge the moderate 76-year-old Garamendi from his left. This is because 49.4% of voters in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary in the new Cook district voted for either Sanders or Warren, up from 46.3% in the current district.

Should Garamendi be concerned by this? On the one hand, maybe. Elsewhere, the Democratic Party has gradually shifted more Progressive. This was accelerated by Progressive candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman in New York and Cori Bush in Missouri defeating more moderate Democratic incumbents in safe blue seats.

On the other hand, Progressives in California have been far less eager to challenge and push safe House seats leftward, even when the numbers favor them. When California Progressives have been elected, it has always been due to an open seat, redistricting or flipping Red to Blue. Ask them about challenging a moderate Democrat, and they usually reply, “We are mostly focused on flipping red seats to blue this cycle.”

The Cook map, though, is just speculation. Hamilton noted she has a very different sense how redistricting will likely change her district.

“I wish I had a crystal ball for Northern California and District 3, but if anything, it is going to be in our favor,” she said. “Let me emphasize this is only a guess, but if [the district] loses some of Solano County, that is a blue area. And if we lose some of Yolo, that is again a blue county. I won five out of 8 counties. So if [district boundaries expand] north, it is more red up north and that will benefit us.”

It is all speculative at this point, but if Hamilton’s redistricting hopes prove out, one thing you can expect is a whole lot more national Republican donations to flow her way.

Plus as she noted, “You only need 50.1 to win. We got 45.3 last time, and that happened in a presidential year.” So she likes where she is.

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