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Rep. Gary Miller (R)
California Rep. Gary Miller, who won a fluky re-election victory in a decidedly blue seat last cycle, has decided not to press his luck a second time and will instead retire at the end of this term. In 2012, redistricting pushed Miller, a conservative Republican, to run for another term in the newly redrawn 31st District—one that should have favored Democrats.

However, thanks to California's "top-two" primary system (where the top pair of vote-getters advance, regardless of party) and a four-way split among Democrats, Miller and another Republican, state Sen. Bob Dutton, snuck into the November general election. So in a district that Barack Obama carried by a 57-41 margin, voters were stuck choosing between two Republicans for the House—a mockery of democracy.

Miller ultimately prevailed, but his unique good fortune wasn't going to obtain again. In addition to a fractured Democratic field, he'd have needed another credible GOP candidate to run once more. But no plausible Republican would have been interested in a bank-shot suicide mission for the sole purpose of keeping Miller's career on life support for one more term. So Miller was sure to (finally) face a Democrat this November, and he'd have been the underdog had he forged ahead.

Now, things could actually get more complicated. As in 2012, there's no dominant Democratic standard-bearer. The guy who was expected to face Miller that year, Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, is running again, and this time with explicit DCCC support. But Aguilar botched things last time in the primary, coming in third (just a point behind Dutton), and his fundraising has been pretty mediocre. Attorney Eloise Gomez Reyes, meanwhile, has the backing of EMILY's List, and she doubled up Aguilar on the fundraising front last quarter.

Also in the mix is ex-Rep. Joe Baca. Baca's run a weird campaign that's been invisible except when he's screwed up, but he did represent around 44 percent of the 31st District prior to redistricting. And finally, there's San Bernardino School Board Member Danny Tillman, who is African American and may do well among the district's small black population.

So Democrats have another four-way divide, with each candidate offering a different sort of appeal to different constituencies. That means if two—but no more or fewer than two—well-matched Republicans enter the race, we could be in for another nightmare. Democrats are going to be extremely vigilant about preventing a repeat, but with the D-Trip and EMILY going at it, and the untamable lone wolf Baca prowling at the edges, there's little chance of reaching consensus before the June primary.

Still, another political perfect storm is unlikely, even though it's not impossible. With that in mind, Daily Kos Elections is moving this race from Lean Democrat to Likely Democrat, on the assumption that we'll see a traditional Democrat versus Republican race in the fall. If the primary goes haywire once more, though, we'll revisit our rating accordingly.

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Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Wed Feb 12, 2014 at 01:10 PM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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