The doctor and the Marine
With few legislative victories, Bera points to constituent outreach as reason he should win fourth term
Two years after he eked past Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, Democratic Rep. Ami Bera is hoping to ride a blue wave—and fat fundraising lead—into a fourth term representing the Sacramento suburbs. But the notoriously flip-floppy district is always in play, and Bera’s challenger is a former Marine who has stuck to bread-and-butter conservative issues, and largely sidestepped the divisive politics that got Jones nicknamed mini-Trump.
With less than a month to the midterms, Bera and Andrew Grant have only shared a stage once, last month at Sacramento State University. Like other incumbents, Bera snubbed his challenger’s requests for multiple live debates, instead agreeing only to a pre-recorded Q&A with Studio Sacramento on October 18. Grant has sought to highlight the differences between the two men in other ways. The Folsom resident is running on his experience overseas as a former intelligence officer in the Marine Corps and economic acumen as CEO of the Northern California World Trade Center.
Grant says one of his top priorities is opposing legislation like California’s gas tax, which he contends burdens the working-class––a group that Grant says makes up most of the largely suburban seventh, which includes Citrus Heights, Rancho Cordova, Elk Grove, Carmichael and Folsom.
“Small businesses and low-income individuals in this community are getting killed,” Grant said. “District 7 is not downtown Sacramento. It’s made up of small businesses and regular folks. Those people are being missed in this process. They’re who I plan to represent if I make it into office.”
Bera, who’s worked as the chief medical officer for Sacramento County and a professor of medicine at UC Davis, says he’s been a vocal advocate on Capitol Hill for universal health care coverage and a responsive force at home for constituent requests.
“Since taking office, we’ve helped over 10,000 constituents in the district and returned over $5.3 million to individuals who had problems with the IRS, the VA, Social Security and Medicare, and much more,” Bera said in a written statement to SN&R. “I’m very proud to have secured millions of dollars of funding for the 7th Congressional District, including upgrades at the Folsom Dam. … We’ve secured more than $4.5 million dollars in upgrades for Mather Airport and helped hire firefighters in Elk Grove with federal funding to improve public safety.”
Bera has consistently been rated one of the least productive Democrats when it comes to authoring and passing legislation. The Center for Effective Lawmaking ranked Bera 171st out of 193 Democratic congressional representatives in the 114th Congress in legislative effectiveness.
Although Bera won by less than 10,000 votes in each of the past three elections, some political wonks think he’ll have an easier go this time around thanks to the unpopularity of President Donald Trump.
“Bera always finds himself in close races, so he can’t take his race for granted,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor of Inside Elections, in a written statement. “But I don’t expect very many, if any, Democratic incumbents to lose in this political environment with a polarizing Republican in the White House. … If Grant had run last time, when the political environment was different, he might be an incumbent Member of Congress today running for re-election.”
Steve Maviglio, a left-leaning political consultant, went as far to predict that this wouldn’t be much of a race at all––despite believing Grant to be a superior candidate to Bera’s previous opponent, Sheriff Jones.
“Compared to the epic battles that have been waged against Ami Bera over the past six years, this one is a cakewalk,” Maviglio said. “It’s the first time he’s had an underfunded, unnoticed opponent. I think, on paper, [Grant’s] a better candidate [than Jones] but he doesn’t have the resources or profile to be competitive.”
Others paint a less rosy picture of the incumbent’s chances.
“I think the primaries showed there isn’t going to be a blue wave,” said Tab Berg, a Republican political consultant. “And even if there is, Bera’s standing as a run-of-the-mill Democrat doesn’t garner the energy of the activist, progressive wing of the party that is supposedly fueling this so-called blue wave.”
As of June 30, Bera raised over $2.1 million compared to Grant’s $372,000. Nearly 95 percent of Grant’s funding comes from individual contributions, while over 42 percent of Bera’s funding comes from political action committees. Bera’s top two donors, the University of California and Kaiser Permanente, represent the base of his vast financial endowment: the health care industry. Bera’s also received over $200,000 from PACs such as American Medical Associations, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and UnitedHealth Group.
Grant’s limited war chest hasn’t stopped him from garnering support. Grant’s received endorsements from the Sacramento Police Officers Association; chambers of commerce from Rancho Cordova, Folsom and Elk Grove; and mayors of Citrus Heights and Folsom, among others. Folsom Councilman Roger Gaylord pointed toward Grant’s visibility in the community, a focus of the candidate’s campaign, as to why he’ll vote for him in November.
“There’s so much going on in the world right now,” Gaylord said. “I’m just looking for a representative that’s meeting with folks, engaging with the community, and truly looking to represent this district. … I crossed paths with Ami a few times but never outside of an official event. He’s never been out in the community like Andrew.”
Bera supporters, on the other hand, credit his experience and consistent voting record in Washington. Muriel Brounstein, president of Folsom Area Democratic Club, praised Bera’s help in preserving the Affordable Care Act and refusal to bless offshore and public land oil drilling.
“He’s one of few doctors in Congress and he really understands health care––something I think is the main issue in our country,” Brounstein said. “And he understands environmental issues. Look at all these hurricanes, fires and natural disasters. Ami is fighting to protect our environment. That’s what we need in Washington.”