In this California "jungle primary," Regina Bateson and two other Democratic women fight to unseat Republican Tom McClintock. (Credit: Regina Bateson campaign Facebook page)
In this California “jungle primary,” Regina Bateson and two other Democratic women fight to unseat Republican Tom McClintock. (Credit: Regina Bateson campaign Facebook page)

Editor’s Note: This story is part of our Running Women project following 15 compelling women candidates in 2018.

Democratic candidate Regina Bateson aims to oust a Republican man from California’s congressional delegation — and Tuesday’s primaries will be a watershed moment.

Bateson is one of a half dozen people vying to represent California’s 4th Congressional District. And because California has a top-two “jungle primary” system — which sends the top two vote-getters to the general election, regardless of party — she must best Republicans and Democrats alike to keep her dream alive.

The competition includes longtime incumbent Rep. Tom McClintock, who has held the seat since 2009 — which is daunting because incumbents almost always win reelection in the American system. And Bateson has had to fight hard against another Democratic woman, Jessica Morse, who has raised more money and taken the state Democratic Party’s nomination, despite controversy over whether she inflated her professional credentials.

To separate herself from the pack, Bateson — a political newcomer and one of 15 female candidates we are following as part of our Running Women project — has focused on a wide range of issues, from immigration reform to environmental concerns. The latter has been an especially critical talking point in her campaign, since her district includes Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park and conservative McClintock is an avowed climate change denier.

Climate change, wildfires and water shortages threaten the financial solvency of our small businesses and local vineyards, ranches and farms,” she says in her Crowdpac campaign fundraising site.

Bateson has also been vocal in calling for more stringent gun-control legislation, as mass shootings continue to dominate headlines. “I definitely respect the rights of the respectable gun owners in our country and district, which has a strong tradition of hunting and sportsmanship. But I think we can do more to keep our kids safe and to promote gun safety,” Bateson told The Story Exchange.

On guns, Bateson has gone directly after McClintock, who has opposed new restrictions and received an ”A” rating from the National Rifle Association. “Right now, we’re not seeing enough action on a federal level” to curb gun violence, she says.

There are signs her strategy may be working. According to Federal Election Commission reports filed in May, Bateson raised $125,078 between April 1 and May 16, more than McClintock’s $111,997. She also received primary endorsements from several large regional newspapers, including the Sacramento Bee, one of the most widely read papers in the state. Bateson says more than 800 volunteers have joined her campaign.

Democratic candidate Regina Bateson, running to represent California's 4th District, stands with volunteers. (Credit: Regina Bateson campaign Facebook page)
Democratic candidate Regina Bateson, running to represent California’s 4th District, stands with volunteers. (Credit: Regina Bateson campaign Facebook page)

It helps that the district is seen by experts as vulnerable this year. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added it to its list of districts that it’s targeting to flip in 2018. And progressive groups within District 4 are riding that tide, pulling out all the stops to get liberal-leaning voters to the polls on Tuesday.

But change may still be hard to achieve. Since 1993, the district has elected only Republican male leaders.

The current man, McClintock, faces no less than three Democratic women in Tuesday’s primary. This year has seen a wave of Democratic women running for office, many seeking to unseat Republican incumbents — and many vying for the same seats. In California’s primaries, a record 57 women are on the ballot for 32 U.S. House of Representatives seats, according to the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics. Across the country, 310 Democratic women are running for the House, also a record, 162 of whom are challenging incumbents.

Though new to electoral politics, Bateson has held up her experience as a foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State as a key credential. She also served as vice-consul at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, and speaks Spanish fluently.

Credentials have been one of her a main lines of attack against Morse, her toughest Democratic competitor, who has been embroiled in a controversy over whether she inflated the importance of national security jobs she has held. In March, a Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled that she was not allowed to include the designation “National Security Fellow” next to her name on election ballots.

Bateson has faced tough challenges from progressives who support Morse. Former Apple marketer Paul Smith reportedly spent $3,500 on Facebook advertisements to promote Morse and slam Bateson, using tactics inspired by Russia’s controversial use of the social media platform to influence the 2016 presidential election. The Sierra Nevada Revolution Facebook page that Smith created encouraged voters to demand campaign contribution refunds from Bateson — and some did.

Bateson, who was valedictorian of her high school class in Roseville, nevertheless hopes to once again be standing at the top of her class come Wednesday morning. “Starting in 2017, we’ve been building up a huge grassroots movement against McClintock here,” Bateson says. His old-fashioned values and the energy among the district’s liberals, she says, give her cause for hope.

Mariana Castro and Carly LeMoine contributed to this report.