Gary Miller, Congressman Who Left OC to Avoid a Run Against a Republican, Faces One Anyway

An incumbent Republican congressman who jumped districts to avoid facing another GOP Member of Congress in Tuesday's primary will square off against a powerful office-holder from his own party in the fall.

Gary Miller, who had been the Orange County congressional delegation's most-wealthy member, will face former state Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton in the November general election for the Inland Empire's 31st district seat.

What makes the outcome even more stunning is it's a heavily Democratic district. Having gone 58 percent in favor of Barack Obama in November 2008, the newly redistricted boundaries so spooked Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Loma Linda) that he retired after three decades in the House rather than suffer an expected defeat.

Miller had for years served a 42nd congressional district that included parts of Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. Redistricting made him contemplate facing either Fullerton's Ed Royce or Huntington Beach's Dana Rohrabacher, Republicans serving their 11th and 12th terms respectively. Each easily won their primaries Tuesday and will face sacrificial-lamb Democrats in the fall.

Lewis' exit opened up a new opportunity for Miller, who explained away his move by saying he wanted to ensure someone with a long history in the House remained in the seat. Given tons of money from Super PACs and other independent expenditures that poured into the 31st, know-everything The Hill rated a presumed November contest between Miller and Democratic Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar a "toss-up."

Alas, it will not even be.

Aguilar, a rising young star the Democratic Party recruited for the race, made the tactical mistake of saving most of his campaign money for the fall. On Tuesday night, he wound up splitting the vote with three other Democrats.

That allowed Dutton, whose state Senate district was based in Rancho Cucamonga, to take the second spot in California's new all-party primary system that sends the top two vote-getters to the November general election regardless of party affiliation. The final tally: Miller with 26.7 percent of the vote, Dutton with 24.9 percent and Aguilar at 22.8 percent.

Republicans tend to eat their own in the primary, and then come together for the general, as is the case in the current presidential run. For an unlikely fall GOP v. GOP smackdown, Dutton will have plenty of ammo.

Both signed the mythical no-tax pledge, but Dutton actually got state senators to stick to it during budget negotiations in 2010-11.

Meanwhile, Miller has been the poster child for the ethically challenged. This is ironic because he was first elected to the House in 1998 over then-41st district incumbent/felon Jay Kim, who was wearing an ankle bracelet after being convicted of receiving illegal campaign contributions.

Multimillionaire Miller's tenure has been marked by headlines involving the sheltering of real estate assets, profiting off a transportation bill he championed, using his business office and resources for campaigning (and vice versa), diverting charity and taxpayer funds to business associates, inflating his military record to make it seem as if he served in Vietnam when he really washed out after boot camp, and sending federal earmarks to an Orange County defense contractor with ties to a controversial Islamic charity.

Leave the fireworks at home, this race should provide plenty.  Of course, everyone's been wrong before.

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