Should Republicans Recruit a Candidate Against Their Own Incumbent?

by Nathan L. Gonzales June 6, 2013 · 10:46 AM EDT

Rep. Gary G. Miller, R-Calif., is one of Democrats’ top takeover targets in the House. But to hold his seat, GOP strategists might consider finding another Republican to run against him.

In 2012, Democrats had a math problem. Two Republicans and four Democrats ran in the same June primary, after which, the top two, regardless of party, moved on to the general election. It was the first cycle for the system in California and no one was quite sure how it would play out.

In the 31st District, Miller finished first with 26.7 percent and Republican state Sen. Bob Dutton finished second with 24.8 percent, leaving four Democrats on the outside looking in. Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar finished third (22.6 percent), attorney Justin Kim was fourth (13.5 percent), Renea Wickman was fifth (6.7 percent), and Rita Ramirez-Dean was sixth (5.7 percent).

This cycle, Democrats were determined not to let history repeat itself — especially in a district where President Barack Obama won with 57 percent.

Aguilar got into the 2014 race early and had the support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. A one-on-one race with Miller would strongly favor the Democrat.

But now three other Democrats, including former Rep. Joe Baca and EMILY’s List-endorsed Eloise Gomez Reyes, have gotten into the race and could complicate the math. Baca’s entry has already been dramatic, as reported by CQ Roll Call’s Emily Cahn here, here and here.

In 2012, the two Republicans combined for 51.5 percent of the primary vote in an electorate that skewed conservative. Since the primary system is still new, there are no trend lines, but let’s assume half of next year’s primary electorate goes Republican once again.

That leaves the other half of the vote for the four Democratic candidates.

San Bernardino City Unified School District Board Member Danny Tillman has filed for the race. He is likely to receive at least 6 percent of the vote, which appears to be the base African-American vote in the district. That’s slightly less than Wickman received last year after not running much of a campaign.

That leaves about 44 percent of the vote to be divided among the other three candidates. Aguilar, Baca and Reyes are credible in their own way and should all be competitive. Assuming they divide the vote roughly evenly, the strongest of the three could still be in the high teens.

So if Republicans were able to get another GOP candidate in the race, and that candidate could get just 20 percent, that could be enough to leave Democrats out of the general election for a second straight cycle.

Recruiting a second Republican into the race would be a messy proposition and probably couldn’t be done by the National Republican Congressional Committee. But if keeping the seat in Republican hands is a priority, GOP strategists might have to think outside the box.

Obviously, if Democratic voters coalesce behind one of their hopefuls, that would close the window of opportunity for a second Republican. But there is also a chance that the primary electorate skews Republican once again and there is less vote available in June for the Democrats to divide. It’s also possible, but not probable, that the primary electorate could be more Democratic and make it easy to get a Democrat into the top two.

But one thing is for sure, the race in California’s 31st District looks like one of the most complicated and competitive primaries next year.