SAN DIEGO -- While California may not see much action from presidential hopefuls, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said today she believes a handful of competitive districts will make the state a "battleground" in Democrats' effort to win back control of Congress.
Democrats could pick up as many as five or six seats here next November under the state's new political maps, according to some political analysts. Victories in a handful of GOP-held districts could help Democrats win the 25 seats they need nationwide to reclaim the majority.
Pelosi said strong candidates and registration edges in some of California's new districts will work to Democrats' advantage in 2012.
"We have many opportunites here because we were able to out-recruit the Republicans to run candidates who are real problem-solvers," she said during a news conference at the state Democratic Party convention in San Diego.
The party has identified nine seats that are potential pick-ups. Pelosi focused on three swing seats that have attracted only one high-profile Democratic candidate, including the newly drawn 7th Congressional District in the Sacramento region.
That race will be a rematch between GOP Rep. Dan Lungren and Democrat Ami Bera, a doctor and public health official from Elk Grove.
Bera attracted headlines for strong fundraising in his 2010 bid, but lost by seven percentage points in the swing district. Pelosi said she believes the now "battle-tested" candidate will be able to win under the new district lines, which give Democrats a one-point voter registration advantage.
"He has a personality and an agenda that really invigorates the grassroots and one of the most positive, enthusiastic grassroots operaitons in the country," she said. "He will have that again, even more so, more Democrats and (this year's) president at the top of the ticket."
CDP Chairman John Burton said high turnout in a presidential year and voters' disappointment with the GOP majority in the House will benefit Bera and other Democrats running in the state.
"It's just going to be a whole different chemistry this election," Burton said. "In fact, there are some pollsters that say ... this could be an absolute flip of 2010, that the people voted Republican, and they saw what they got, and they're suffering from what they call the buyers' remorse."
Lungren strategist Rob Stutzman said later that while the new district is more favorable to Democrats than the 2010 lines, he's "very confident still that Lungren is a vote-getter."
"It's going to be a very expensive race, but we're confident in prevailing," he said.
Stutzman said Democrats' pick-up prospects could be dimmed by their need to defend incumbents who are vulnerable under the new lines, such as Reps. John Garamendi and Lois Capps.
Democrats' optimism about the election outcome might not translate to big spending by House Democrats in California's targeted seats. Pelosi said while she expects candidates here to be well-funded, focus and resources will also be concentrated in other states with pick-up opportunities, such as New York, Illinois, Florida and Texas.
Allan Hoffenblum, a former GOP strategist who now tracks California congressional and legislative races, said it's too early to tell whether Democrats will pick up many House seats here next November. Much of the outcome, he said, will depend on which Republican is on the top of the ticket.
"Right now, I (think) it could go either way, depending how strong the Republican candidate for president is," Hoffenblum said. "There is going to be significant turnover, but I don't want to place bets yet on is it going to be plus 'D' or plus 'R.'"
EDITOR'S NOTE, 4:02 p.m.: This post was updated to add comment from Rob Stutzman.