By objective political standards, the election in the new 25th Congressional District should not be much of a contest. It is solidly Republican by voter registration (40.3 percent GOP, 35.1 percent Democratic), and the incumbent is a 10-term Republican, Rep. Buck McKeon, who hails from Santa Clarita, which is in the heart of the district.
But, there are some factors that could actually make things interesting in what on paper is a safe Republican district.
First is the fact that the longshot Democrat, Simi Valley podiatrist Lee Rogers, is much better funded than the typical challenger in a race such as this. Through the end of June, he had raised $236,543.
Second is the fact that there is at least a hint of scandal involving McKeon -- the fact that he received a favorable mortgage loan from Countrywide Financial at a time when the financial crisis was about to blow up. Regardless of whether McKeon sought favorable treatment, or whether it did or did not influence any of his votes, or even whether he was aware that he was receiving special treatment such as the waiver of fees, it is exactly the kind of situation that feeds into public anger about elected officials, whom they believe conduct their affairs under special sets of rules.
The issue is so potentially volatile that fellow California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, rushed to defend his colleague in the wake of a mailer and TV ad from the Rogers campaign that attack McKeon on the issue.
In a statement released to the press yesterday, and distributed by the McKeon campaign, Issa wrote: "I'm disappointed that Democrat Congressional Candidate Lee Rogers is using my image and embellishing the findings of a serious investigation of a mortgage company to attack my friend and colleague Buck McKeon. Buck is a man of great integrity, and Rogers' allegation that Buck's vote was somehow bought by Countrywide is at odds with the facts and certainly not something I found in my investigation of failed mortgage lender Countrywide."
The photo and comment used in the campaign material is taken from a 2009 Fox News interview with Issa on this issue in which he described the Countrywide VIP loans by saying, "I call them bribes." In the same interview, Issa noted that Countrywide had specifically sought out "people who could help them."
In response to Issa's statement, Rogers released one of his own:
"Our mailers and other ads are 100 percent accurate and quote Rep. Issa's report directly," Rogers said. "It's what Issa's press release didn't say that's most telling. He didn't deny that Buck McKeon received a favorable rate on his loan. He didn't deny that Buck McKeon knew he received special treatment. He didn't deny that Buck McKeon received a gift worth thousands of dollars which is not only banned under House rules, but also by law...
"It's really sad that Darrell Issa has spent all this time and taxpayer money uncovering the corruption that led to the mortgage meltdown, but he hasn't acted to bring anyone to justice or even to enact the recommendations in his own report."
It's a good bet Rogers will hammer on the Countrywide issue through Election Day. The fact that the district is newly drawn will make that effort potentially more potent because much of the district -- including the Simi Valley -- is territory in which McKeon is a relative stranger, meaning voters there have little or no historical context on which to judge the incumbent's character or ethics.
It remains to be seen how voters will react -- especially whether, even if they are concerned about the loans, the concern rises to the level that it would trump partisan considerations.