- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has taken the rare step of endorsing the Democratic incumbent in one of California’s most hotly contested congressional races.

The trade group overwhelmingly endorses Republican candidates. But this time it sided with Rep. Scott Peters, a freshman representing a San Diego-based district. Of the more than 260 candidates the chamber has endorsed this election cycle, Peters is only the fourth Democrat.

On Wednesday, Peters’ campaign released an endorsement letter from Thomas Donahue, the group’s president and chief executive.

“We believe that your re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives will help produce sustained economic growth, help create jobs, and get our country back on track,” Donahue wrote.

The endorsement is a coup for Peters, who faces a strong challenge from Republican Carl DeMaio, a former member of the San Diego City Council who also started and sold two businesses.

The district is almost evenly divided among Republicans, Democrats and independent voters, which gives candidates an incentive to work across party lines. That’s something Peters sought to highlight in his response to the endorsement.

When it comes to improving the economy, he said Congress needs bipartisan cooperation, “not gridlock and flame-throwing.”

DeMaio, in a campaign event Tuesday, also sought to strike a bipartisan tone, calling on his party to be “more inclusive and positive.” His campaign responded to the chamber’s endorsement by saying it was to be expected.

“We’re not surprised that a special interest group in DC is trying to protect Members of Congress. They like the system the way it is. They know Carl DeMaio is coming to end the perks for this crowd,” Dave McCulloch, a DeMaio campaign spokesman, said in an emailed statement.

Rob Engstrom, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce national political director, said via Twitter that the DeMaio campaign actively sought the group’s endorsement and called the response sour grapes.

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