Carl DeMaio is a man with a significant dilemma.
In recent years, DeMaio has gone from City Council GOP standard-bearer, to 2012 mayoral contender, to runner-up in that race, to a 2013 powers-that-be second choice to replace a melting down Bob Filner, to 2014 runner-up for Congress at the hands of false accusations, to conservative talk radio darling, to once-again potential candidate.
As “being in the game” now means a radio gig of repute and clout, instead of as an elected official, DeMaio has spent several weeks seemingly deciding if that’s enough for him. His options:
- Keep his KOGO radio platform, where he’s nearly single-handedly driven a repeal of last year’s California gas tax increase (and where he recently got a new deal).
- Run for an open Darrell Issa seat (49th Congressional)
- Place his name on the ballot against Duncan Hunter (50th Congressional), in anticipation of either a) Hunter being forced from office, or b} somehow besting the sitting but credibility-weakened Congressman.
Neither of those two districts is where DeMaio ran in 2014 against Scott Peters (52nd). Yet, a race against Peters is now a non-starter for DeMaio.
But the 49th, to replace a retiring Issa, is a non-starter as well. If Issa can’t stomach the risk of losing to a Democrat in an increasingly-swing district, why would DeMaio want the risk of being a two-time-losing congressional candidate in two different districts?
Yet that may be the same question in the 50th. The Hunter seat is safe for a Republican, but not so safe for a GOP candidate with the Congressman himself still on the ballot.
Some polling shows DeMaio and Hunter both making it past this June’s primary — thus, two Republicans in the run-off. It is also said to show the potential of DeMaio beating Hunter in November.
If accurate, it goes without saying — that polling must have surveyed Hunter’s most significant negatives, involving the ongoing Department of Justice investigation about his campaign’s expenditures. But, did it include any of DeMaio’s potential negatives?
No doubt, DeMaio’s very deserved reputation as a libertarian-leaning fiscal hawk, a public pension reformer, and the organizer of a statewide ballot measure to repeal the gas tax would all play significantly well in the conservative East and North County (including back-country) areas making up the district.
Yet, DeMaio is unlikely to be able to campaign on those red meat issues in some kind of political vacuum. Even a Duncan Hunter with a diminished fundraising capacity is likely to bring in enough money to push back on DeMaio in some respect.
Additionally, suffice it to say that in the conservative stronghold of the 50th District, DeMaio is very likely not planning on using some of the same campaign messaging he used in 2014 against Peters, proudly emphasizing that he is gay.
Would others point it out?
I may need to encourage readers not to be incensed by what may be seen as a inappropriate thing for me to even have brought up — DeMaio’s personal life. (Here’s some encouragement: Get a grip and welcome to politics. Go find a safe space on some college campus or something.)
MY openness to whatever personal life any individual chooses for him/herself has NOTHING to do with political reality. I’m only one vote. Yet, we’re talking about a geographic area that may be one of the most socially-conservative of any in California.
Sure, cite the number of independent, decline-to-state voters in Hunter’s seat. But, that’s the rub — downtown San Diego and “coastal types” don’t ever “get it” about this area. Many 50th District voters are registered as independents because they simply don’t see the Republican Party as being conservative enough. Party-affiliated or not, they vote for the most conservative Republican come election time.
Even in a diminished capacity to fight back against a DeMaio candidacy, Hunter would not be alone. Some power-brokers in D.C. have discussed an independent expenditure effort, so concerned about the makeup of Congress and the Speaker of the House, to believe DeMaio in the race represents some scenario that paves a path for a Democrat to win the seat in November (even if the GOP ultimately gains it back in 2020).
I’m not seeing a credible scenario in which that would be the case, but it doesn’t mean others won’t act on their concerns.
Any anti-DeMaio effort would tap into the heart of the socially-conservative district, painting him as too liberal, a carpet-bagging opportunist in desperate search of an office.
If DeMaio has polled on these issues and has some data to show a lack of concern, more power to him.
But, enter El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, who announced he’s running against Hunter a couple of weeks ago.
Wells probably measured the gambit and its related risks the same way DeMaio has been doing (as well as a few other potential contenders), each asking themselves:
- What if the DOJ wraps up its Hunter investigation between the March 9 deadline to file for office and the June election?
- What if the results are damaging to Hunter, but there is no other credible Republican on the ballot?
- Do I want to be kicking myself for not having stepped forward?
- How mad will the Party be at me for taking on the already-endorsed Hunter? Do I care?
- What if Hunter wins the primary, then the DOJ announces something damaging between June and November? Or even after November?
- Do I not want to be seen as the candidate with the guts to have stepped forward, so I’m tapped as the replacement choice in whatever scenario follows, including a vacancy or even in 2020?
- What if Hunter wins regardless of any DOJ announcement, beating me?
Come up with whatever scenario you want. The risks for a Republican contender against Hunter are large. Yet, the risk of saying too late, “I should have,” are just as large.
One thing is certain. Wells made a bold choice while DeMaio was thinking about it.
If there is any (even remote) possibility whatsoever that two Republicans, Hunter and another candidate, can make it through the June election and face each other in the run-off, such a possibility goes completely out the window if another “name” Republican now gets in the race.
Any GOP anti-Hunter votes would be split between the two other Republicans, thus guaranteeing Hunter cruises into November against one of the several Democrats.
DeMaio is calling supporters and Republican Committee members, at the very least suggesting he may still file against Hunter, even with Wells already in the race. A DeMaio announcement is anticipated any day, prior to this Friday’s deadline.
Yet, now, DeMaio’s choice is between staying out of the Hunter race and potentially being seen as its spoiler by jumping in.
There will be other opportunities for DeMaio. His decision now should be to keep his radio platform, where he can continue to do significant good for the cause.