Democrats lost their chance to run a candidate in the general election for California's District 31 when two Republicans came out ahead in the open primary Tuesday.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, two Republicans, seven-term incumbent Rep. Gary Miller and state Sen. Bob Dutton, finished on top in the district. Miller won 26.7 percent of the vote, while Dutton took 24.9 percent.
That was bad news for Democrats. Under California's new election laws, the two top-finishers in the primary, regardless of party, move on to the general election.
Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, the Democratic favorite, came in third with 22.8 percent of the vote, while former Hill staffer Justin Kim, another Democrat, finished fourth with 13.5 percent of the vote. About 1,000 votes separate Aguilar and Dutton, but mail-in or damaged ballots have yet to be counted. The Associated Press has not yet called the primary for any two candidates.
"It was assumed Republican voters would split between Dutton and Miller, and Aguilar should have easily made the runoff," Doug Johnson, a fellow at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government, told The Sun of San Bernadino, California.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee targeted the usually Democratic-leaning district in its "Red to Blue" plan to capitalize on favorable redistricting and win back the House majority. The Cook Political Report had the race listed as a Toss Up. Now, however, Democrats will be unable to win the seat.
The campaign organization glossed over the loss in a Wednesday memo listing its successes in the California primary.
"Most importantly, Democrats have outstanding candidates in our 6 targeted Republican districts," the memo read.
Miller benefited in the primary from significant outside spending on his behalf. Two groups pumped more than $1.4 million into the primary contest, which saw the most spending from independent groups of any non-special election House race in the 2012 election cycle. Miller was backed by $1.2 million in spending by the National Association of Realtors, while Aguilar had support from the California & Nevada Credit Union League, which spent $155,000 through a super PAC to support him. Aguilar raised about $330,000 on his own during the election cycle, and Miller raised $739,513 in the same period.
Miller switched in January from the Republican-leaning district he currently serves, avoiding a run against fellow Republican Rep. Ed Royce.
Going forward, Democrats plan to focus on the successes of the night, including California Assemblywoman Julia Brownley's win in the 26th District, according to the DCCC memo. All 29 Democratic incumbents in California survived their primaries. The memo touts races across the state, including Tuesday's advancement of Brownley in a newly created Democratic-leaning district.
"The bottom line: House Democrats are organized, energized, and ready to win California," the memo read.