Inland Empire voters on Tuesday ousted Rep. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino, from Congress, handing the victory to state Sen. Gloria Negrete-McLeod, D-Montclair.
Baca was first elected to the House of Representatives in a 1999 special election. Voters put Baca in the Assembly in 1992.
In another inland race, the congressman's son, Joe Baca Jr., lost his bid to rejoin the Assembly. The younger Baca finished behind publishing executive Cheryl Brown in the 47th Assembly District.
In other Inland Valley and San Bernardino area contests, voters tended to support candidates who were either incumbents or favored by establishment interests.
The races involving the Bacas, however, were an exception. Despite having the support of the California Democratic Party, the Bacas were defeated by Democratic opponents who, in both cases, had considerable support from outside interests.
The amount of outside spending in the Baca-versus-McLeod race is among the more dramatic examples of the role that Super PACs played in the 2012 election. Independence USA, a Super PAC reported to be affiliated with billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, spent nearly $3.3 million in their work to give McLeod a job on Capitol Hill.
To put that in perspective, McLeod herself raised roughly $300,000 for her campaign this year, according to the most recent summary of federal campaign filings from the Center for Responsive Politics. Baca raised nearly $950,000 in direct contributions.
The upshot is that Baca said he didn't really lose to the candidate whose name appeared next to his on the ballot.
"If I would have ran against my opponent, I would have beaten her," Baca said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "Bloomberg and the Super PAC beat me, not her."
McLeod did not provide comment for this report despite requests.
Bloomberg supports gun control and a flurry of charged Independence USA mailings sent late in the campaign attacked Baca for his pro-gun stances.
Baca held a news conference on Friday to protest the ad blitz, and Wednesday reaffirmed his view that the Super PAC's ads amounted to propaganda.
Super PACs like Independence USA are allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money to support or oppose chosen candidates as long as they don't coordinate electioneering efforts with those candidates.
Independence USA was not the only Super PAC to take an active role in local races. The National Association of Realtors supported Republican Rep. Gary Miller over state Sen. Bob Dutton in a race for the 31st Congressional seat representing a district that ranges from Upland to Redlands.
Also, Spirit of Democracy America PAC, connected to wealthy moderate Republican Charles Munger Jr., supported Assemblyman Paul Cook in his race against Gregg Imus, a general contractor and member of the Tea Party movement in the race to represent a sprawling district that includes the mountains and much of the Mojave Desert.
The Super PAC-supported candidates won all three races.
Independence USA's spending may not have been the only significant factor in McLeod's victory.
Baca and McLeod competed in the newly drawn 35th Congressional District, which includes communities in Pomona, the Chino Valley, Ontario and Fontana.
Although there was some overlap with Baca's prior district, redistricting shifted the boundaries to the west of Baca's constituency and into Los Angeles County.
McLeod ended up winning by an overall 55.7 to 44.3 percent margin of victory. McLeod was the top vote getter in San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties, but in the latter county she won nearly 63 percent of the vote.
In his career in Congress, Baca has supported social programs such as food stamps and a more open immigration policy. He said Wednesday that he was proud of his record and may consider retirement from public affairs.
"I'm just going to let the dust settle and mull it over and decide what to do," he said.
Tuesday's election outcome echoes that of the 2006 primary. Although the elder Baca would go on to win another term in Congress that year, Baca Jr. lost a bid to move up from the Assembly to the Senate. Another family member, Jeremy Baca, was unsuccessful in attempting to win the Democratic nomination for the Assembly seat left open by his brother.
Baca Jr. later won a seat on the Rialto City Council. His current term there expires in 2014.
McLeod was the winner of the state Senate primary that year. Wilmer Amina Carter won the Assembly primary and went on to serve the past six years in that house.
Brown, who defeated the younger Baca on Tuesday, served as a part-time field representative to Carter in addition to her job as president of the publishing company behind the Black Voice News.
On Election Night, Brown attributed her victory in part to her platform's support for small business, while Baca Jr. blamed negative advertising for his defeat.
Brown also benefitted from outside support in her race. Pro-charter school interests spent on her behalf, whereas the California Teachers Association campaigned in support of Baca Jr.
The Original Rialto Democratic Club supported McLeod during the past election, but president Lillie Houston said the club has previously backed the elder Baca.
Houston, who said she hoped a change in leadership may improve the Rialto area's business climate, acknowledged that there has been tension in San Bernardino County's Democratic circles between Baca supporters and others who worried the Congressman was more concerned with building a dynasty than finding the best possible candidates.
"It was pretty much like nepotism. It wasn't about the person doing the best job," she said.
The elder Baca did not care for that statement.
"It's not about family, or anyone. It's about public service. Whether it's family or not, it's about serving the community," he said.