Latino Democrats Battle Each Other in Heated California Congressional Race

by Nathan L. Gonzales May 30, 2013 · 9:17 AM EDT

What looked like an easy road to Congress for Redlands, California Mayor Pete Aguilar has turned into a complicated race among a trio of Hispanic Democrats. What is more, this has the potential to divide Latinos in California and Washington, D.C.

Aguilar is running for the Democratic nomination in order to face Rep. Gary Miller (R), in one of the most Democratic districts currently represented by a Republican.

After failing to get out of the primary in California’s 31st District last year, Aguilar focused on correcting his past mistakes, including starting his campaign earlier in order to discourage other candidates from getting into the race. But the Democratic nature of the district has attracted two more Democrats into the race, former Congressman Joe Baca and attorney Eloise Gomez Reyes.

“With Baca in, it gets messy fast,” according to one Latino Democratic strategist. Baca probably could have won this congressional seat in 2012, but instead he chose to run in a neighboring district that was more Democratic, and lost to now-Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod (D).

Now Baca is attempting his political comeback in the 31st, almost half of which he represented before new congressional boundaries were drawn. But over the years, he has turned off some of the local community by trying to blaze a political trail for his son, Rialto City Councilman Joe Baca Jr., and turned off some Latinos in 2007 when Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D) accused the elder Baca of calling her a “whore.”

Baca is also not known for running strong campaigns, which is part of the reason why the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is in charge of getting back the House majority, is supporting Aguilar.

Some national Democratic strategists also believe that if Baca is the Democratic nominee he would not be able to provide a stark enough contrast to Miller, who he supported in a mailer in last year’s race.

Over a year before the next primary, Baca and Aguilar are already exchanging blows. Aguilar is using Baca’s support of a Republican congressman against him. Baca called Aguilar’s 2014 bid “not viable” because he lost last year. The two men are trading lists of congressional endorsements (Aguilar has more from California while Baca has more from outside the state) and there is also bubbling generational tension between the 66-year-old former congressman and the 33-year-old mayor.

But Reyes shouldn’t be ignored. Even though she is a first-time candidate and starts the race with very little name identification, she has support from EMILY’s List, a national group that is committed to electing pro-choice, Democratic women and has the ability to help Reyes raise money from donors across the country. If Baca and Aguilar get into a nasty fight, Reyes could benefit by not being attacked.

All of the candidates, regardless of party, run together in the June 2014 primary. In 2012, two Republicans finished first and second, preventing Democrats from an opportunity to win the seat in the general election. And Democrats are desperately trying to avoid a replay since they need to win this seat in order to get back to the majority.

If Miller is the only Republican in the race, he will likely finish first with approximately 50 percent of the vote. San Bernardino City Unified School District Board Member Danny Tillman, who is black, will likely get about 6 percent of the vote, leaving the three Hispanic Democrats to fight for approximately 40 percent of the remaining vote. That means 20 percent of the vote or less could be enough to finish in second place and get to the general election.

With all of the infighting, once again Democrats risk that the seat will remain in Republican hands, and Latinos risk missing out on a seat where almost half of the population is Hispanic.