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Best bet to beat McClintock may rely on redistricting

During the last two election cycles, hope has burned in the greater Sacramento region that just the right Democratic opponent with a very big campaign war chest might be able to upset 6-term U.S. Representative Tom McClintock (R) in California’s 4th Congressional District. But each time, McClintock has won handily while raising and spending far less than his opponents.

Solid Democrat Jessica Morse came closest in 2018. She outspent McClintock 2-to-1 and tried to ride the midterm Blue Wave that boosted Democratic turnout even in the Sierras, but even then, Morse could close the gap to just 8 points.

In 2020, centrist businesswoman Brynne Kennedy was the latest to bravely put up a long, strong fight. But despite outspending McClintock by $600,000 and running largely as a non-partisan independent, her final deficit slid back into the double-digits typical of other McClintock general election opponents.

The biggest obstacle to a Democrat winning in the CA-4 remains its heavily Republican electorate. The district sprawls across 10 counties of the Sierra Mountains and foothills, with 72% of voters in Placer and El Dorado counties. More than 42% of the district is registered Republican and 30% as Democrats. The rest (28%) are No Party Preference/Independent voters, but as can be seen in the chart, the Democratic registration levels haven’t varied much over time.

Morse’s jump up to losing by less than double digits in 2018 can be attributed to her spirited campaigning and huge campaign budget. She wasn’t a perfect candidate and committed too many unforced errors, but as can be seen below, a huge spending advantage can only leverage so many votes against an incumbent.

For 2020, Kennedy played the moderate, non-partisan card as best she could, but in a presidential year, a big Trump turnout appears to have wiped out any in-roads she made with NPP/Independent voters.

McClintock is 64 with no signs of retiring. Midterms may give Democrats hope for another Blue Wave in 2022, but without Trump in the White House, it is hard to expect matching the 2018 excitement for Blue voters. Time will tell.

Perhaps the best chance for this district will be redistricting that increases the number of registered Democrats in the district. A big swing can’t be expected; however, with the huge increase in population in Sacramento County, this most likely with require the boundaries of Sacramento County’s two main Congressional Districts (Doris Matsui’s CA-6 and Ami Bera’s CA-7 ) to contract somewhat – even with California expected to lose one Congressional seat (most likely in Southern California).

If this happens, a scenario exists that would transfer some of Folsom and more of Fresno County into the CA-4. But even if some version of this plays out, don’t expect a huge registration swing for Democrats here like benefited them in the CA-7 after the 2010 Census. But any little bit will certainly improve chances for a Democrat to compete against McClintock.

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