We barely finished special election season this year before the ghosts of elections past began re-emerging on the scene. One of the first out of the gate was one-term city councilmember and failed 2012 mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio .
In the fine right-wing tradition of falling upward, DeMaio is seeking to capitalize on losing Republican control of the Mayor’s office for the first time in twenty years with a run for Congress against freshman Scott Peters in the 52nd District. Never mind all the times on the campaign trail last year that he told people he didn’t want to go back to DC.
Peters of course is in that office because he beat Brian Bilbray – someone who, unlike DeMaio, had actually won quite a few elections before being unseated. But DeMaio reads polling and election results as well as anyone, so he’s picking up right where he left off in the mayor’s race last year: Running at full speed away from his record as a career politician and his votes during his years on City Council.
For DeMaio, these adventures in whitewashing started as soon as the general election did last year. DeMaio found that simply trying to say the opposite of what he’d spent his career doing wasn’t such an effective strategy, so this time around he has a new tactic. He’s just going to ignore all those social issues entirely. After all, if you can’t beat em AND you can’t join em, just try to keep your head down and hope nobody notices you, right?
He doesn’t want to talk about social issues like immigration in the midst of a national debate raging through Congress around comprehensive immigration reform. Why? Maybe because he was the lone councilmember in San Diego not to oppose Arizona’s racial profiling law. Maybe it’s because he wanted to redirect San Diego’s local police resources to enforce federal immigration law. But it seems like addressing the major Congressional issue of the year would be a basic expectation for someone who wants the job.
He probably doesn’t want to talk about social issues like the GOP War on Women that’s swept across the country in the last couple years, from Todd Akin or Trent Franks right on through to Michael Burgess just this last week without any respite. Well last year the Chair of Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest warned voters in a letter that “Carl DeMaio is a stealth candidate” who “cannot be trusted,” so it makes some sense that Carl wouldn’t want to be talking too much about that one.
DeMaio also took a swing at environmental issues last year. Now that he’s running in a district that includes wide swaths of San Diego’s beaches and bays, it’d probably be quite useful to burnish those environmental credentials. After all, former Congressman Bilbray’s biggest claim to being a ‘moderate’ was supposed to be his environmental record.
But now, just like last year, Carl has to navigate the challenges of reality. Over the course of his tenure on City Council, DeMaio received the lowest overall score for any councilmember on the annual Environmental Quality Report Card. He wasn’t just failing to be an environmental ally, he was establishing a new standard for being the worst on environmental issues. Probably another good one for him to avoid.
One question that remains unanswered is whether corruption qualifies as a social issue in Carl’s context. He might want to, since he’s once again dancing on the edge of campaign rules. Maybe not a surprise from someone who used to tell people while he was conducting council business that they should contact him through his campaign email address so that the public wouldn’t have access.
Even if Carl can somehow manage to hide from really explaining his positions on all those social issues, unless he’s planning on also voting for different leadership within the Republican caucus should he make it to DC, the GOP leadership in DC matters. The leadership that’s held 37 votes to repeal Obamacare , repeatedly voted to erode a woman’s access to the health care she chooses, and is currently trying to ‘win’ on immigration reform by denying health care to immigrants. If Carl’s going to put a stop to all that and get back to issues like job creation, great. Can’t wait to hear who he’s planning to back for Speaker instead of John Boehner. I bet the NRCC can’t wait either.
Despite all this, we’re obviously in for a serious challenge to Peters. Several polls now have made this clear. But what’s also clear from these polls is that DeMaio and the National Republican Party know the challenges they’re up against. When the NRCC polled, they were partially polling DeMaio himself, and partially polling a pitch.
What would happen if they were able to just brush his actual record under the rug and run a blank-slate campaign? Can they give way on a single social issue and then get a pass from voters on all other social issues? Not surprisingly, when DeMaio’s baggage disappears in Republican polls, he becomes quite a bit more popular. So the gauntlet is laid and the strategy is clear: Trick people.
Just pretend reality didn’t happen and just build a candidate from scratch. Hope nobody remembers his ties to Newt Gingrich , to Jack Abramoff , to the Koch Brothers, especially in Duke Cunningham’s old seat. Hope that nobody remembers that his economic proposals were so fundamentally wrong that even Governor Schwarzenegger and the entire conservative establishment in San Diego had to disavow him at various points. Forget that he consistently voted against the economic progress that he’s now claiming as his own success.
It’s a gift to have such a broken, extreme candidate, but only if we’re willing to fight back to set the record straight. DeMaio and the national Republican power structure are hoping we don’t.