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Standing in the gap

Posted: June 6, 2009 7:53 p.m.
Updated: June 7, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Over the past two years, the gap has been closing between registered Democrats and Republicans in the 25th Congressional District, and both sides are gearing up for a run at gaining the high ground in 2010's election.

Represented by Congressman Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, the 25th is one of the largest districts in the state, including the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys, San Bernardino County and stretching north to Mono and Inyo counties.

In May, the 25th district comprised 131,527 registered Democrats, 136,792 registered Republicans and 63,540 registered as "decline to state" - reflecting a 1.52-percent margin between the two parties' registration, according to information provided by the Secretary of State's office.

By comparison, in February 2007 the margin was 8.79 percent.

The 25th district is one of eight in California where President Barack Obama won in traditionally staunch Republican areas. As a result, Democrats are keeping a close eye on the eight districts as they strive to turn the 25th districts' tide in their favor.

"We've seen a constant pattern even after the (presidential) election," said Darren W. Parker, vice-chairman for region one of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party. "We believe that (McKeon's) is a winnable seat."

McKeon has represented the 25th district since 1992.

Parker said Obama's election was a high point in a several-year shift of "Americans (starting) to believe their vote counts.

"Not that Buck is a bad guy, (but) we believe that we have candidates who are ready."

The shift in party affiliation is due in part to an influx of new residents in the region, according to political consultant Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, which tracks federal and state legislative races in California.

"What's happening is ... there's been a large migration of Latino and Asian voters to the Antelope Valley area," he said. "And they're not voting Republican these days. Right now, they're just turned off by the Republican party."

Part of what has turned minority voters off to the Republican party, he said, is what he called a "shrillness" projected by some legislators regarding immigration issues. He said McKeon has not been one of those politicians.

In an April 14 column that appeared on Foxandhoundsdaily.com, Hoffenblum wrote that 2010 will "become one of the most competitive November general election campaigns since the current (district) lines were drawn in 2001.

"The question now is, will the California Republican Party have sufficient numbers, dollars and political smarts needed to put up a good fight?"

All things considered, the longtime Republican said he'd be surprised if McKeon - who won with 58 percent of the vote in 2008 and 65 percent in 2006 - is in any true danger of losing his seat in 2010.

McKeon is keeping an eye on the statistics, said Bob Haueter, Buck McKeon's deputy chief of staff.

"We're very concerned about declining registration," he said Friday. "The general mood (about) Congress is, ‘throw all the bums out.'"

The upside of the voter shift, he said, is that people have been switching to "decline-to-state," an indicator they're somewhat disillusioned by both parties.

"With the right message and the right outreach, we can reach them," he said. "This election, people will be voting on policies."

McKeon's voting record is one tool the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee aims to use in persuading voters to step across the aisle.

"At this point, we're working to hold Congressman McKeon accountable (and) make sure his constituents are aware he's taking positions not in (their) best interest," DCCC spokesman Andrew Stone told The Signal on Thursday.

Among those positions, the committee has cited McKeon's "no" vote on President Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - from which Santa Clarita is receiving some $13.5 million - approved earlier this year.

Local grass roots efforts will be key to voter education, Stone said.

Meanwhile, Republicans are echoing Hoffenblum's position that the 25th District is safe from a Democratic overthrow, according to Joanna Burgos with the National Republican Congressional Committee.

"McKeon has a strong base," she said. "Reckless spending habits (in Washington, D.C.) are really hitting a nerve back home."
The coming election cycle will call for lots of outreach, Burgos said.

"Some Republicans may have gotten a little comfortable," she said. "I think you'll see a lot of the Republican incumbents make more of an effort (to connect with constituents)."

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