L.A.’s Last House Republican Fights for Survival

Steve Knight faces a competitive challenge in his bid for a second term.

By: Kimberly Railey

Fresh­man Rep. Steve Knight is the last Re­pub­lic­an in Con­gress to call Los Angeles County home, but he has a fight on his hands to keep that title.

Two years after Demo­crats were shut out of the gen­er­al elec­tion in Cali­for­nia’s 25th Dis­trict, party strategists now see a strong open­ing to flip the seat with fa­vor­able voter-re­gis­tra­tion num­bers and pres­id­en­tial-level turnout. They are hail­ing their can­did­ate, at­tor­ney Bry­an Ca­forio, as a chal­lenger who will run more com­pet­it­ively—and raise far more money—than past Demo­crats in the area.

“This is the first time that I be­lieve that seat is in play,” said Eric Bau­man, chair of the Los Angeles County Demo­crat­ic Party. “Ca­forio brings more to this race than any Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate has in a long time.”

Since 2012, the GOP’s 17,000-voter-re­gis­tra­tion ad­vant­age has col­lapsed, and Demo­crats now hold a 3,000-voter edge in the dis­trict based in the north­ern Los Angeles ex­urbs.

Demo­crats be­lieve Don­ald Trump’s can­did­acy will provide an ex­tra jolt, giv­en the dis­trict’s siz­able Latino pop­u­la­tion. Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ben Ray Luján said re­cently that Knight’s seat is “on our bat­tle­field now in a very ag­gress­ive way” thanks to Trump. In 2012, Mitt Rom­ney won the dis­trict with 50 per­cent of the vote.

“Everything is mov­ing in the right dir­ec­tion,” Ca­forio said in an in­ter­view. “The new dis­trict is much more Demo­crat­ic.”

Knight took 49 per­cent of the June 7 top-two primary vote, fol­lowed by Ca­forio with 29 per­cent and two oth­ers total­ing some 22 per­cent. This is Knight’s first con­gres­sion­al match­up with a Demo­crat. In 2014, an eight-can­did­ate primary blocked Demo­crats’ top con­tender from ad­van­cing to the gen­er­al elec­tion in the race to re­place re­tir­ing Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Buck McK­eon, and Knight de­feated fel­low Re­pub­lic­an Tony Strick­land by 6 points.

For his part, Knight has kept his dis­tance from the GOP’s pre­sumptive pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee, de­clin­ing to of­fer Trump any form­al sup­port. He is also plan­ning to skip the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Con­ven­tion.

“I have nev­er en­dorsed for a pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate, and that’s a con­sist­ent re­cord I’ve had in and out of polit­ics,” Knight said in an in­ter­view. “I’ll be run­ning my own race.”

Knight’s al­lies ar­gue that he boasts a strong loc­al brand and can out­run the top of the tick­et: In 2012, he won his state Sen­ate dis­trict by 15 points, while Rom­ney car­ried it by 2 points, ac­cord­ing to data com­piled by Daily Kos.

In the state Le­gis­lature, as an as­sembly­man and sen­at­or, Knight also rep­res­en­ted ter­rit­ory over­lap­ping with the con­gres­sion­al dis­trict. His fath­er, the late Wil­li­am J. “Pete” Knight, was well known in the re­gion, hav­ing serving as an Air Force test pi­lot and later in the state Sen­ate and As­sembly for 12 years—an as­set that Re­pub­lic­ans re­peatedly em­phas­ized.

“I can’t ima­gine a Demo­crat win­ning,” McK­eon told Na­tion­al Journ­al. “The dis­trict has changed as far as re­gis­tra­tion, but the people out there that are Demo­crats are also pretty con­ser­vat­ive people.”

The GOP is already por­tray­ing Ca­forio, who moved in­to the dis­trict from else­where in Los Angeles, as a car­pet­bag­ger. That line of at­tack helped Knight sink Strick­land last cycle even as he was out­spent 5-to-1.

Knight’s fun­drais­ing is again on shaky ground, es­pe­cially in this pro­hib­it­ively ex­pens­ive me­dia mar­ket and com­pared with the totals of oth­er vul­ner­able GOP in­cum­bents. As of May 18, Knight had $437,000 in the bank. Ca­forio had just $94,000 at that time, but Demo­crats pre­dict he will be able to re­fuel his ac­count now that the primary is over and raise more money than past Demo­crats in the area. Since an­noun­cing his cam­paign in Decem­ber, Ca­forio has col­lec­ted more money every quarter than Knight.

Demo­crats are also em­boldened by the res­ults of the dis­trict’s gen­er­al elec­tion in 2012, when the well-known McK­eon drew 55 per­cent against an op­pon­ent they view as weak­er than Ca­forio, though that was the first elec­tion after the lines were re­drawn. The party is cast­ing Knight as too ex­treme for the mod­er­ate dis­trict, point­ing to his re­cent com­ment that So­cial Se­cur­ity was a “bad idea” and his vote in the state Sen­ate against ban­ning Con­fed­er­ate sym­bols on state prop­erty.

Ca­forio brought on Demo­crat­ic me­dia firm Kully Hall Struble, which in 2014 helped Rep. Pete Aguilar flip a seat that had be­come more Demo­crat­ic-lean­ing after re­dis­trict­ing. To rep­lic­ate that ef­fort, Ca­forio will have to unite his base after a di­vis­ive fight against fel­low Demo­crat Lou Vince, who won the Cali­for­nia Demo­crat­ic Party’s en­dorse­ment, took 15 per­cent in the primary, and has not yet backed Ca­forio.

In the long term, Re­pub­lic­ans con­cede Demo­crats’ grow­ing voter-re­gis­tra­tion ad­vant­age will make the dis­trict harder to hold. But they dis­pute the idea that Trump gives Demo­crats a sig­ni­fic­ant boost this cycle.

“This dis­trict is not go­ing to be a safe Re­pub­lic­an seat un­der its cur­rent con­fig­ur­a­tion,” said Cali­for­nia GOP con­sult­ant Dave Gil­liard. “Demo­crats would have made a play here re­gard­less of who the pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate is.”

Demo­crats, mean­while, con­tend that one of their steep­est chal­lenges is con­vin­cing their rank and file that the seat is ac­tu­ally with­in reach.

“If you don’t open your eyes and look be­hind the cur­tain, it seems like we’re Re­pub­lic­an and a Demo­crat can’t win,” said Maria Gutzeit, a Demo­crat­ic former can­did­ate in the race who has en­dorsed Ca­forio. “I’m hop­ing that people real­ize that we can.”

View original article: https://www.nationaljournal.com/s/638174?mref=daily-landing

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