Former Sen. Barbara Boxer, a liberal icon in California who is trying to help Democrats win back several Congressional seats, will host a fundraiser this week in a critical California swing district amid new fears that Democrats could be shut out of the general election thanks to the state’s top-two primary system.
Democrats for months have said their path to regaining the House majority runs through California, where the anti-Trump resistance movement is the strongest in the nation and the party is targeting 10 battleground seats.
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However, in recent weeks their early confidence about the state's races has diminished.
Democrats are now panicking that too many candidates are running in these pivotal swing districts, which will deeply divide the party's votes and could result in a pair of Republicans emerging as the two-top vote-getters in the June 5 primary, resulting in Democrats being shut out completely.
California's primary system is not party-based but allows the two candidates who received the most votes in the primary to go on to run against each other in the general.
The Democratic Congressional Committee and other Democratic leaders are now trying to ensure that the most viable Democrats run in these swing districts—and that means more centrist-oriented candidates who can attract independents and some Republicans.
Over the weekend at the California Democratic Party's convention, Daraka Larimore Hall, the vice chair of the state party, told candidates polling under 10 percent that they should get out of the race immediately.
"If you step aside today to make sure we don't send two Republicans to the general, you will be my hero," he said. "If you put your career before your party, I will not support you for f—-ing dog catcher."
In eight of the California Congressional districts Democrats are targeting, there are three to eight Democrats running in each race.
In the 49th district, which straddles North County San Diego and South Orange County, five Democrats are running and the leading one, who nearly beat Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) in 2016, has serious baggage.
The liberal group Flip the 49th Neighbors in Action targeted the district early, protesting for nearly a year outside Issa's office and successfully driving him out of the seat.
Republicans, who hold a seven-point registration advantage there, are now growing less concerned about losing the seat, as two of the GOP candidates appear to be leading the field of top contenders.
The Flip the 49th Group last year collected $450,000 from liberal donors Jane Fonda, Boxer, and several celebrities including Leonardo di Caprio, Bill Maher, and Ted Danson.
Boxer plans a Saturday fundraiser for the race, according to the Flip the 49th organizers.
Sending in Boxer, a liberal icon from San Francisco, to collect money for the race, may help fill the campaign coffers but it will cement the perception that national Democrats are trying to control the outcome, Republicans argue.
"Far left-liberals are swooping in to save the Democratic Party from itself in the 49th district," said Jack Pandol, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "That's because we’ve seen polling that shows that they are in deep trouble."
An internal Democratic poll released Feb. 21 shows Doug Applegate, a former Marine colonel who nearly defeated Issa in 2016, as maintaining a narrow lead against all of the candidates in the race. Applegate tops the field with 19 percent over two top Republicans, Rocky Chavez and Diane Harkey, who each garnered 17 percent.
However, Applegate carries some baggage that could be troublesome in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Reports surfaced late in the 2016 campaign showing that courts granted Applegate's ex-wife a restraining order against him for alleged stalking and harassment allegations.
Court records also show Applegate was charged with driving under the influence in 2000 and pled guilty to reckless driving.
Once voters learned of the negative candidate information, Applegate moved down to the third position with 17 percent of the vote behind the two Republicans, with Chavez and Harkey both taking 18 percent each.
Another Democrat, environmental lawyer Mike Levin, who national Democrats threw their support to early last year, came in fourth with 13 percent of the vote, while GOP San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, collected 8 percent of the vote, along with Democrat Sara Jacobs, the grand-daughter of Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs.
Jacobs last week earned some negative reviews from members of the military following remarks that she's not a "crusty old Marine." The district is home to Camp Pendleton, the largest Marine installation on the West Coast.
Two other Democrats, Paul Kerr and Christina Prejean, came in seventh and eighth in the crowded field, with just 2 percent and 1 percent, respectively.
The Flip the 49th group plans to hold a "viability" debate this Friday to help winnow the Democratic field.