Bernie Sanders supporter jumps in to unseat Democrat in one of nation’s hottest House races

Former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, speaks in support of Proposition 61 in Sacramento, Nov. 7, 2016.
Former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, speaks in support of Proposition 61 in Sacramento, Nov. 7, 2016. AP

A 30-year-old lawyer who backed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders last year has jumped into the race to challenge Rep. Ami Bera, a three-term Democrat representing suburban Sacramento.

Brad Westmoreland, a Democrat and political newcomer, said he wants to shake up “politics-as-usual.” He criticized Bera for his stance on health care, and for accepting campaign contributions from insurance companies.

“I believe in Medicare-for-all... I don’t think we can rely on Congressman Bera to go against his own interests and support universal health care when he takes money from people who are opposed to a Medicare-for-all type system,” Westmoreland said, referencing Sanders’ push for a single-payer health care system. “I think about my son growing up in a world where we continue to ration health care away from those who need it, and i think that’s unacceptable.”

Westmoreland is the second candidate to enter the race for California’s 7th Congressional District, a highly competitive seat that consistently ranks among the most expensive in the nation. When Bera defeated the Republican incumbent in 2012, it was the most costly congressional campaign in the country.

Bera, an Elk Grove physician, narrowly beat back Republican challenger Doug Ose in 2014, winning by just 1,455 votes. That margin widened last year, when he defeated Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones by just shy of 7,000 votes. The district now leans blue, with Democrats holding a slight edge in voter registration. Bera faced criticism from Democratic allies in organized labor in his last race over his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Still, it’s seen as a swing district. Bera is one of four California Democrats being targeted in 2018 by the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Andrew Grant, a Republican and Marine Corps veteran, is also running to unseat Bera.

Bera did not make himself available for an interview, but in an April town hall, he said he didn’t support the concept of Medicare-for-all, citing concerns with upending a complicated health care financing system. He said Congress should work to improve the Affordable Care Act.

“As a doctor, I swore an oath — to do good, to do no harm and to help patients make the best health care decisions for their own circumstances,” Bera said in a prepared statement in late July. “Sacramento County faces real health care challenges and it’s time Washington put aside the political games and worked to improve the lives of the American people.”

Westmoreland, born and raised in Yuba City, works as a lawyer for the state Department of Social Services. Previously, worked as a clerk for the state Senate and has a law degree from University of Washington. He has never held elected office.

He and his wife are planning to move this week to Elk Grove from Sacramento, which falls outside the 7th District. Elk Grove is in the district. They are expecting their first child in December.

Westmoreland backed Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary, later voting for Hillary Clinton in the general election.

He said he staunchly opposes policies and actions of President Donald Trump, taking particular issue with Republican attempts to repeal Obamacare.

“Taking health care away from millions of Americans without any kind of replacement system is a terrible idea,” Westmoreland said.

He said his campaign will focus on jobs and the economy. He acknowledged steep campaign challenges, including in raising money, with Bera putting up strong fundraising totals year over year.

“That’s one of the problems,” he said. “The voices of every day Americans are being drown out in this roaring sea of platform is going to focus on health care, money in politics and issues surrounding the economy — how we can help small businesses grow and thrive.”