ICYMI: Next question, please

Next question, please
Politico California Playbook
Lara Korte, Melanie Mason and Dustin Gardiner
July 9, 2024

THE BUZZ: DONKEY IN THE ROOM — California Democrats trying to flip seats in swing congressional districts are steering clear of the turmoil at the top of the ticket — even as a growing number of Democratic lawmakers have expressed desire for President Joe Biden to step aside.

The pressure has the president doubling down on his reelection bid, leaving congressional hopefuls in an impossibly awkward position…

Meanwhile, California’s Democratic challengers are doing their best to avoid the quagmire. When asked whether they think Biden should step down, eight candidates in target districts ducked the issue or ignored Playbook’s inquiries…

With lower name-ID and less entrenched followings than elected members of Congress, they’re more reliant on the party apparatus, including local Democratic clubs, and may have less incentive to rock the boat. In at least one instance, the Bidens have even helped juice their fundraising; Will Rollins, who is challenging Republican Rep. Ken Calvert, attended a fundraising event with Jill Biden in Palm Springs a few months ago.

But the candidates also have more to lose if the top of the ticket proves to be an albatross on down-ballot Democrats. Even before the calamitous debate, there were signs that congressional Democrats were outperforming Biden.

Rollins, who is looking to flip the Palm Springs and Riverside-County-centered district held by Calvert, sought to quickly redirect the scrutiny to Trump.

“Will is going to support the Democratic nominee for President whether it’s Joe Biden or someone else,” his spokesperson Coby Eiss said in a statement. “Is Ken Calvert asking his 34 felony count sexual predator nominee to step down?”

Joe Kerr, the Democrat running against Rep. Young Kim, said he has no control over the top of the ticket and that he’s focused on the predominantly Orange County district.

“Regardless of who wins the presidency, if elected to Congress, I’ll support them when they have good ideas and oppose them when they don’t,” he said in a statement.

Jessica Morse, running to unseat GOP Rep. Kevin Kiley in Northern California, took a similar tack.

“We need to stop Donald Trump at every level. Regardless of what happens at the top of the ticket, Congress must be the firebreak against the existential threat of MAGA extremism,” she said in a statement.

Others are staying out of the conversation altogether.

Rudy Salas, who is running against incumbent Republican Rep. David Valadao, did not return our requests for comment. Neither did the campaigns for Derek Tran or Dave Min, who are both vying for competitive seats in Southern California. George Whitesides, a challenger to Rep. Mike Garcia, didn’t get back to us, either.

The campaign for Adam Gray, another Democrat looking to unseat a Republican in the Central Valley, declined to comment…

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