Looking at the CA-46 Congressional race

Having looked at half the propositions on the California ballot so far, I’d like to take a break to focus on the one vote I’ll be participating in which will actually have a direct repercussion in Washington — that of my Congressional district, CA-46. As you can see from the link there, it’s a classic ‘how the heck did they draw the lines for that one’ district, sprawling along the north Orange County coast past Long Beach and over to Palos Verdes. At the same time, its sprawl makes it an interesting swathe in general, not a full microcosm of the area (it would actually need more of Long Beach itself for that) but more varied than might be guessed.

Still, the fact that it covers what it covers means it’s been no surprise that the district has returned a Republican representative for years now — but what makes this year a surprise is that for the first time in heaven knows how long, said representative actually has a race on his hands courtesy of the Democratic candidate. So to fully introduce you to them both:

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R)

Debbie Cook (D)

It would be wrong of me not to list the two other listed candidates as well, with their sites:

Thomas Lash (Green)

Ernst P. Gasteiger (Libertarian)

Were this a Democratic safe district I would be strongly tempted to vote Green if anyone. Much more so than the presidential vote, however, this is a case where strategic voting is of great concern here, because this is an actual race for the first time in a long while.

Explaining in huge detail why I’m not for Rohrabacher would be a bit of a waste of time — I have no particular feelings about him being in Congress for ‘too long’ or the like, as incumbency is in and of itself hardly some sort of crime. An effective representative maintains his or her position by staying in tune with the feelings of the district’s voters, as much as using institutional advantages to the full, of course. In reviewing his general stand on the issues, there’s room for agreement — for instance, I have no objection to nuclear power at all, though I think for obvious reasons it must be subject to careful and total regulation, while he has introduced a sensible and long overdue medical marijuana amendment to Congress at a couple of points, one time in partnership with Sam Farr, the excellent representative up north in CA-17, where my folks live.

However, whether it’s his dismissive take on ‘the so-called man-made “global warming crisis”’ or his vocal support for the unspeakably awful El Toro Airport project following the closure of that base, his obsessive foci on fretting about Communism and religion or — looking at something he doesn’t talk much about on his site, from what I can see — his support for and connections with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, there’s much more that just doesn’t work for me. I’ve participated in larger letter writing projects to him in the past on various issues, though I’m sure that Rohrabacher’s office well realizes that I was always in the minority, and his various comfortable victories over the years underscores that. My votes for his Democratic opponents in the past have always been essentially protest votes at best, especially given that I do not belong to any political party, and the end results never surprised me.

However, sea changes do occur, and this year is a potential — by no means a guaranteed — doozy. If Rohrabacher represents a familiar OC-into-South Bay type of voter, then Debbie Cook represents a less familiar but increasingly more visible one. An excellent portrait of her life and work — as well as some more zings against Rohrabacher — can be found by reading this extensive OC Weekly article from last month, covering her biography (she’s a Navy brat like me, which right there is always a good sign — well, I would say that!) and rise into politics, culminating so far with her winning of the mayoralty of Huntington Beach and resultant increasing visibility in local and, to an extent, state politics.

As with any politician I support, no matter how sympathetic they seem to be, I look at Cook with interest and general approval at best — outright starry-eyed celebration isn’t my thing, and not being a Huntington Beach resident I can’t speak as well as others on local issues. But certainly more so than past Democratic candidates, Cook has a record, a show of local political success and the fact that she can play the game well under her belt to support her — competency in the business of politicking as much as the business of daily government is needed in order to make civil society work well, after all. Her own list of issues is far more in line with mine than Rohrabacher’s, which is to be expected.

The OC Weekly article, published in mid-September, noted that at the time circumstances weren’t entirely in Cook’s favor — and to be fair, this was always going to be an uphill fight. However, the economic nuttiness since then, combined with the increasing profile and comfort with Obama as candidate, seems to have turned the tide a bit. In the past week and a half I’ve noticed various mentions that the race had turned more competitive, and to his credit, so did Rohrabacher. (Again, a smart representative reads and notes the public mood; a foolish one always expects to coast no matter what.) So the fact that I saw far more mailers for Rohrabacher this race than I’d ever noticed in the past was a sign, and this recent OC Register article confirms it:

Huntington Beach Mayor Debbie Cook hasn’t been able to out-raise Rohrabacher. She raised just over a quarter of a million dollars as of the end of September compared to the nearly half million dollars Rohrabacher had to spend. And there’s nothing she can do about the lopsided party registration that has 45 percent Republicans, 32 percent Democrats and 19 percent Decline to State in this coastal district that spans from Costa Mesa to Palos Verdes.

But Cook, a lawyer and community activist, has greater name recognition and more-on-the-ground government experience than any other Democrat who has ever challenged Reagan’s former speechwriter. And in a year when the Republican brand is the lowest it has been in decades, Democrats began taking this race seriously.

“This is a totally different political world than what we’ve been operating in for the last 20 years,” says Rohrabacher. “We’ve reached a breaking point on all the negative trends that have been going on for our country in energy, financially as well as our stupid housing industry policy. It all came together in a perfect storm.”

Rohrabacher said he realized a month ago that this was not going to be an ordinary reelection for him when he saw a private poll that had him a lot closer to Cook “than I felt comfortable. So I went into high gear.”

So it’s on, and it will stay on through Election Day itself. Hardheadedly, I frankly assume that while it will be a close race, Rohrabacher’s chances of success are greater. I’m not going to lose any sleep over his being reelected if that occurs, no more so than I have in the past. Still, though, there’s no question who I’d rather see representing the area, and who I believe can do a fine job of it. Everyone’s a newcomer at some point in their career, after all, and in this case I’d prefer the newcomer.

For CA-46, I quite unsurprisingly vote COOK. Here’s to a good race!

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