Claremont In The House!

As most CMCers know (or if they don’t John Faranda will shortly inform them) CMC’s own David Dreier ’75 currently represents the town of Claremont as a Member of the United States House of Representatives.   But this is not a piece about him. I would wager that fewer CMCers know of that other 5C alumna serving in the lower chamber: Gabrielle Giffords (Scripps ’93).

It is worth considering where Gabrielle Giffords is and how she got there for a number of reasons, including the perk of being able to toot Claremont’s own horn.

Aerophonic blasts notwithstanding, let us examine Giffords’ situation, as it might provide some insight into the midterm elections which are but a few months away. Giffords, a Democrat, represents Arizona’s 8th District--hardly a liberal stronghold. Located in southeast Arizona, along the border the district went for John McCain in 2008 by six points and for George W. Bush twice, albeit not by massive margins. Arizona’s 8th, which includes part of Tucson, is a slightly Republican (for you political nerds, Charlie Cook’s PVI rates it R+4) and is likely to prove difficult for Democrats to defend this cycle. Democrats in the past two cycles have made gains in these types of more conservative districts and in order to retain control of the House these are the types of seats they will have to defend and hold.

(Is it just me, or does that last paragraph sound like a not funny Stephen Colbert’s Better Know A District?)

The district is competitive, so what? Other than giving 5C students the warm and fuzzies to see our own succeed, paying attention to this race may prove a useful proxy for the national field.

How do we know this race is so competitive, you may wonder? Giffords was amongst the first House Democrats to air general election ads this cycle. Though Arizona’s primary is not until August 24, Giffords felt the need to go on air almost two months earlier. Her choice of ad is also worth noting: heavily pro-military/veteran, anti-regulatory (“cutting through red tape”) libertarian message designed to appeal to a more conservative constituency.

Giffords' voting record may also present an issue. She voted for Cap-and-Trade and ObamaCare, likely to be hard sells in a conservative-leaning western seat. The White House, Speaker Pelosi, and the DCCC have all made the case that those bills will be embraced by the American people, Arizona’s 8th will test that argument.

Who is challenging the gentle lady from Scripps College, you might ask? Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post summarizes the opposition nicely. “Former State Sen. Jonathan Paton (R) made a statement with $500,000 raised in an abbreviated first quarter after getting in the race early this year, but he still faces a primary with Iraq veteran Jesse Kelly.”

So on the one hand, Paton’s fundraising is solid  (if not out-of-this-world-jump-for-joy-fantastic). On the other hand, Jesse Kelly is kind of badass.

Oh yeah, one final thing: the race is in ARIZONA. You know what that means: immigration. In the aftermath of Arizona’s new law, immigration is bound to play an outsized role (yes, outsized even for a western, border district race). Giffords' position is nuanced. Giffords opposes both the law and the lawsuit. She is walking a fine line between being tough on illegal immigration, and angering either the sizeable Hispanic minority or more liberal supporters located primarily near Tucson. Dangerous stuff.

So, children, what have we learned? First, there is more than one 5C alum in Congress. Second, her district will be indicative of broader national trends. Third, if the number of Scrippsies in Congress is to remain steady and not drop, Gabrielle Giffords will have to run a very strong campaign against the odds.