Two years ago, in California’s 7th congressional district–located east and south of Sacramento–incumbent Republican Dan Lungren lost to Democrat physician Ami Bera by 5,696 votes. In 2012, President Barack Obama also swept this state by 21 points. Since then, Rep. Bera has been an extremely liberal Congressman, with the conservative Club for Growth ranking him as the fourth-worst House member.
With the Presidential election behind them, Republicans are looking at taking the seat back this year. Three Republicans are vying for the seat: Doug Ose–a former congressman; Igor Birman–former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock of the 4th district; and former U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Emken.
I remember all too well Ose’s tenure in Congress from 1999 to 2004. In fact, I was serving as Executive Director of the California Republican Party during a big chunk of it. The seemingly oxymoronic phrase “liberal Republican” describes Ose’s brand of politics. You name the policy area, and he voted with Democrats–a lot.
On fiscal policy, Ose voted repeatedly to hike the debt ceiling, to oppose the banning of earmarks, to stop GOP efforts to reduce discretionary spending, and even to raise taxes. Rounding this out: Ose supported amnesty for illegal aliens, supported expanding federal gun control laws, and was an ardent supporter of abortion rights. A review of the ratings given to Ose by groups that produce such scorecards produces a lot of D’s and F’s.
It is significant to note that Ose wasn’t just not a conservative. Ose was actually anti-conservative, establishing himself as a leader in efforts to try to stymie conservative political and policy outcomes.
Ose attempted to return to Congress in 2008, running in a neighboring House seat in a primary against the iconic McClintock. Despite spending $5 million from his personal treasury, against $1.3 million spent by his opponent, he was crushed by 15 points. Six years later, he’s back–and, ironically, in a June battle that has shaped up into a two-man fight between himself and McClintock’s former chief of staff.
In a sharp contrast to Ose, Birman is a solid constitutional conservative. He proudly touts the endorsements of Senator Rand Paul, and former Rep. Ron Paul, as well as groups such as FreedomWorks, Gun Owners of America, and the Family Research Council.
Birman tells a compelling story about immigrating to the United States when he was a boy from the former Soviet Union, fleeing that country for a better life here in America.
If I were writing this column two months ago, I would have had to say that because of Ose’s huge theoretical money advantage, it would be hard for any Republican (who wasn’t as well known as Tom McClintock) to defeat him in June.
That said, as we sit here just days before the final votes will be cast, a number of factors are at play that frame this race a toss-up, or perhaps even leaning towards a Birman upset win.
The first is the extraordinary low turnout that we are seeing in this election. The political data pros are now predicting that statewide turnout could fall at or below 25% of eligible voters. That means that the electorate will be much more ideologically inclined, on both the right and the left, and the independent turnout is likely to be quote low.
With Bera on the ballot, Democrats will overwhelmingly support him, as will many of those independent voters who do turn out. That leaves Ose stuck having to battle with Birman for an audience significantly to the right of the former Congressman.
While no one ever anticipated Birman outspending Ose–who is spending north of a million dollars in the June race–Birman has had demonstrated significant fundraising skills, bringing in well over a half million dollars. That is more than enough, with the low turnout, to have robust voter contact with everyone likely to cast a ballot, letting GOP voters know the contrast between him and Ose. Birman is also executing a pretty impressive ground game–again of enhanced value in this kind of election.
Ose has actually played a key role in queuing up his own potential demise next week. Besides what is an unpopular voting record, as I mentioned above, the former Congressman spent most of his campaign, until fairly recently, focusing on his potential general election opponent, Congressman Bera–almost as if he really didn’t have any Republican opponents at all. Thus Ose missed a key opportunity to use his superior resources to define Birman to Republicans.
Ose “gets it” now–and is focusing all of his resources trying to come out ahead of McClintock’s chief. But is it too late?
An added element is substantial late spending by the Democrat-controlled House Majority PAC blasting Ose– apparently they would prefer to face someone who doesn’t have the Ose family fortune.
In conclusion: The elements are all in place for Birman to prevail on Tuesday night, and it will be big victory for conservatives if he does.
Jon Fleischman is the Politics Editor of Breitbart California. A longtime participant, observer and chronicler of California politics, Jon is also the publisher at www.flashreport.org . His column appears weekly on this page. You can reach Jon at firstname.lastname@example.org.