The 7th District is centered on Elk Grove, Calif., which was one of the fastest-growing cities in the state before the housing bust. A wave of younger and ethnically diverse residents moved in and transformed the formerly sleepy town into the type of place that personifies, like the rest of California, the new Democratic coalition that President Obama is trying to build. After several cycles of national waves where the parties' same arguments worked across the country, Democrats and Republicans are both finding openness to their pitch in 2012 -- just in different parts of the country.
"Where 2010 became an anti-Democratic year, this is clearly an anti-incumbent year," Bera said. "They're not going to do anything between now and November. I think they're actually going to make things worse. It'll be all political theater."
To Bera, who spent time working on increasing health insurance coverage as Sacramento County's chief medical officer last decade, health care is "in the same context as the middle-class insecurity" that people express when they worry about the economy. Republicans challenging Democratic incumbents in Appalachia and the South, among other places, clearly hope to find success this fall by tying health care reform to the country's struggling economy. Bera is making an opposing pitch in California. In 2012, both can be right.