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Democratic Rep. Scott Peters Faces Five GOP Challengers In June

Photo caption:

Photo by Kris Arciaga

Democratic Congressman Scott Peters talks to student volunteers at his San Diego campaign headquarters, April 22, 2016.

The two-term incumbent's 52nd Congressional District race is the most competitive House contest in San Diego County in the June 7 primary.

For the third election in a row, San Diego's 52nd Congressional District race is the most competitive House contest in the county — and Democratic Rep. Scott Peters has been involved in all three.

Peters ousted incumbent Republican Brian Bilbray by 6,992 votes in 2012. And then, two years ago, Peters won a bruising re-election fight against Republican Carl DeMaio by 6,080 votes.

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That last race was a contest that served up a steady diet of negative political ads on television and plenty of drama in the news media. There was a campaign office break-in, sexual harassment allegations and stolen political playbooks. One figure in the scandal admitted to lying to federal investigators.

Peters is hoping for a little less excitement this June.

He’s facing five Republicans on June 7, though two are considered the strongest challengers based on fundraising and campaign efforts — Jacquie Atkinson and Denise Gitsham. Neither has held elected office.

The district runs north from Coronado to La Jolla, and then east to include Carmel Valley, Scripps Ranch, Poway and Rancho Bernardo.

Ground game

Peters spent a recent Friday evening giving young student volunteers the lay of the political land.

About two dozen students, most from high school, listened eagerly as the congressman talked about the nuts and bolts of his campaign team. Peters is hoping these young people will bolster his campaign's ground game, giving him a chance at a full night's sleep on primary day in June.

"I'd love to go to sleep this election night knowing that I won," Peters said. "That would be great. It would be an unusual thing."

The 52nd District race is competitive because one-third of the district's registered voters are Republican, a third are Democrats and a third decline to state a preference. That's one reason Peters stakes out the middle ground when deciding his policy positions.

Campaign Fundraising

Scott Peters, Democrat: $2,164,542

Denise Gitsham, Republican: $425,354

Jacquie Atkinson, Republican: $146,063

Mike Canada, Republican: $17,000

John Horst, Republican: $12,950

Terry Allvord, Republican: $7,236

Note: Figures through May 2, 2016

Source: Center For Responsive Politics

"I think that's a pragmatic approach," Peters said. "I think that's the approach people have seen that I've taken. That's where I've had success. And at the end of the day, I hope they see that that's enough for me to be rehired. So far, so good."

The economy, taxes and immigration reform are big issues Peters expects to debate in Washington next year. The two-term lawmaker also expects to be working on affordable education, access to healthcare and veteran's issues.

The common thread is that those issues affect people from many walks of life, and that's why Peters is making those issues his priority. He said being responsive is part of the job.

"It's a long conversation. I think of it like a job interview. We'll talk over time about the things I've accomplished. Answer questions about what's going on. And talk about how we're trying to fix Congress and hope that the voters agree I'm on the right path," Peters said.

Money's role

That path is an expensive one. The Peters campaign has raised $2.2 million and hopes to more than double that by November. Only a handful of House members will raise more.

His opponents are also thinking about money, but fundraising isn't their only focus.

"Hi, ma'am, my name is Jacquie Atkinson, and I wanted to reach out to you personally and introduce myself," Atkinson said as she cradles a phone between her shoulder and ear. She is huddled in a conference room with about 10 volunteers and they are reaching out to potential Republican voters.

"I am running for Congress in your district, and I would love your support," she told one person over the phone.

Photo caption:

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Republican Jacquie Atkinson, a candidate in the 52nd Congressional District race, works the phones looking for support in the June primary, April 20, 2016.

The Marine veteran declared her intention to run for the 52nd District seat shortly after Peters won re-election.

She promises to bring new leadership to the job. Atkinson said Congress faces some big challenges in the next session.

"We have to have a strong, principled foreign policy that keeps us on the offensive against Islamic extremism," Atkinson said. "We must secure the border before we can talk about immigration or immigration reform, and we also have to ensure that our veterans get better care."

She has raised $146,000 so far, but Atkinson said she expects fundraising to pick up after the primary narrows the field to two candidates.

"And I believe once I win the primary, that money is going to open up and people are going to realize that I can represent not only the Republican Party, but the 52nd District," she said.

One reason the Republican fundraising spigot is not yet open is that there are other GOP candidates vying for public and donor attention in the race.

Donors, voters are the target

Candidate Denise Gitsham is an attorney who worked in the Bush-Cheney administration. She's raised about $425,000 but concedes she'll need more than that to win. Right now, Gitsham is working to get her name out.

Photo caption:

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Republican Denise Gitsham, a candidate in the 52nd Congressional District race, introduces herself to Rick Fisher as he prepares for a bike ride in La Jolla, April 17, 2016.

The attorney and businesswoman is quick to burnish her conservative credentials. She talks about the importance of an America that has a strong military and political presence on the world stage.

Gitsham also wants to keep government from interfering with the region's innovation economy, which creates intellectual and monetary wealth.

"That's something that's really important to me — that government's not getting in the way of ensuring that we're able to get those technologies into the public sphere, so that we're able to hire the right people, so that we can get those companies taking off," Gitsham said.

She is targeting the San Diego County district's Republican voters. On a recent weekend afternoon, she used an app that located GOP households in La Jolla. That allows her to focus on the message that she's the candidate who should carry the Republican Party banner this November.

"The most important thing to me is meeting with people and hearing what they have to say to me about what they look for in a representative. And as long as I'm out meeting as many people as possible, I'm hoping that the word spreads," Gitsham said.

The other Republicans in the race are Mike Canada, John Horst and Terry Reagan Allvord. Combined, they have raised less than $20,000, but they hope to get enough votes to make the November ballot. That distinction goes to the top two vote-getters in June, regardless of party affiliation.

Photo caption:

Photo by Susana Tsutsumi

The 52nd Congressional District includes Coronado, Point Loma, Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, La Jolla, University City, Carmel Valley, Clairemont, Linda Vista, Tierrasanta, San Carlos, Mira Mesa, Rancho Peñasquitos, Scripps Ranch, Poway and Rancho Bernardo.

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