By Ben Goad
WASHINGTON – Democrat Mark Takano's bid for a Riverside-area congressional seat got a boost Wednesday from national party leaders, who listed his race in the top tier of their “Red to Blue” initiative that targets competitive races in traditionally conservative areas.
Two other Inland seats also were named for special attention as the party strives to increase Democrats’ numbers in the House by 25 and regain the majority. While acknowledging it’s a lofty goal, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel pointed to polls that show House Republican approval ratings below those of Democrats.
“I'm not saying the majority is a guarantee,” Israel, D-N.Y., said during a briefing with reporters at the group’s Capitol Hill headquarters. “I am saying we are nipping at their heels.”
Takano, a Riverside Community College District trustee, is running against Republican John Tavaglione, a Riverside County supervisor, in the newly drawn 41st Congressional District, which includes Riverside, Moreno Valley and surrounding areas. Democrats have a slight advantage in voter registration, though Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, currently represents most of the district.
A state redistricting panel drew new political lines last summer. The 41st is among those with no incumbent.
“Redistricting has improved that district,” Israel said. “Mark has had a good start in his fundraising and his message, and that's why we included him.”
Takano had collected slightly more than $160,000 as of the last round of campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. The November reports, which include the first three quarters of 2011, showed that Tavaglione had raised almost $158,000.
Takano’s inclusion in the program bodes well for his chances to receive funding from the national party in the coming year.
“Riverside County is ready for change, and today’s announcement is a signal from the Democratic Party that we are going to have the financial and grassroots support needed to win in November,” Takano said in a written statement.
Jim Nygren, a consultant with Tavaglione’s campaign, said the announcement was not a surprise and that Tavaglione is expected to qualify for a similar program called “Young Guns,” run by the National Republican Congressional Committee.
“I would expect them to help fund our side, and Nancy Pelosi will help fund the other side,” Nygren said in reference to the top House Democrat, who works closely with Israel and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Takano's was among 18 races included in the Red to Blue effort. An additional 18 seats where were designated as Red to Blue districts, meaning that Democrats feel they can win them but have not decided on a single candidate.
Such was the case in California's 31st district, a San Bernardino Valley seat to be vacated by the retiring Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands. At least three Democrats — Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, nonprofit founder Renea Wickman and longtime educator Rita Ramirez-Dean — have announced bids for the seat. A pair of Republicans — Rep. Gary Miller, R-Diamond Bar, and state Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga — are also running there.
The Democratic committee also listed the contest for California's 36th Congressional District as an “emerging race.” That district, which includes Hemet, San Jacinto, the San Gorgonio Pass and Riverside County's desert communities, features a race between incumbent Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Palm Springs, and Democrat Raul Ruiz, an emergency room doctor at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage.