One in 53 California Races Are Close

The five candidates vying to unseat Democratic Rep. Sam Farr (search) of California have little in common — except their office address and the likelihood they will lose.

The Republican, the Libertarian, the Green, the Peace and Freedom candidate and the write-in independent are sharing office space in a former Monterey, Calif., golf shop as they pursue long shot quests to topple the six-term House member.

Each candidate has his own desk and phone in the spacious storefront. They can step into private rooms to make calls, and they share costs. The Republican and the Peace and Freedom (search) candidate have become good buddies.

The improbable arrangement saves money, but it's also a purposeful statement about the near-impossibility of beating a congressional incumbent in California — or for that matter, in most districts.

"This American system of a representative government, it does not exist anymore. Here's what exists: The incumbents get re-elected," said Mark Risley, the Republican nominee in Farr's Central Coast district.

The advantages of incumbency are making this year's House races more like victory laps for most of those already in Washington. And the disadvantages of being a challenger have perhaps never been more stark: 53 House seats are on the ballot Tuesday in California and only one is a serious contest.

Nationwide, just three dozen or so of 435 House races are considered competitive. Even some presidential battleground states such as Ohio and Michigan boast not a single competitive House seat, making it unlikely that the GOP will lose control of the House Nov. 2. The Democrats would need to gain 12 seats for that to happen.

"I call it a monopoly. I don't think it's good for the country," said Joel Smolen, one of Risley's office-mates and the Libertarian (search) nominee.

State Legislatures nationwide have drawn congressional district lines to make seats safe for the party that holds them. The map created in California after the 2000 Census established 33 seats that are essentially safe for Democrats and 20 that Republicans can win, a ratio unlikely to change this year.

"Here we are a state of over 32 million people, 53 congressional districts, compared to Texas which is second with 32, and for all practical purposes there's not a serious race going on for any House seat," said Allan Hoffenblum, a GOP consultant in Los Angeles.

The exception is the Fresno-area 20th Congressional District, which is open due to the retirement of Rep. Cal Dooley. The seat appears likely to stay Democratic with Jim Costa, a former state senator, but the National Republican Congressional Committee (search) has poured more than $1 million into the district seeking to make the race a contest. The Republican candidate is state Sen. Roy Ashburn.

The only other open seat in the state is the Sacramento-area 3rd District, where Republican Dan Lungren, a former congressman and state attorney general, is the heavy favorite. In the other 51 districts, the incumbents are expected to romp to victory.

The result is a snoozer of a congressional ballot in a state where voters threw out their governor and regularly write their own laws through ballot initiatives.