Eric Linder finished in second place in the AD60 Primary Election, coming in just behind the only Democrat on the ballot. But, he finished a full 8-points ahead of the next nearest of his two Republican opponents. In a seat that should go Republican in November, this means Eric Linder should be replacing Assemblyman Jeff Miller come November.
Eric is a young, energetic, impressive leader in our Party. He’s the Vice-Chairman of the Riverside County Republican Party. That he made it to the run-off in November as the Republican nominee isn’t a story. But how he managed to pull of that victory certainly warrants telling.
Just two weeks prior to the Filing Deadline, Linder was still going back and forth about whether to run.
On the one hand, there appeared to be an opening. Neither of his two other Republican opponents had been posting impressive fundraising numbers. And, neither had much by way of ties within the Party.
On the other hand, obvious obstacles certainly also existed. Both of those opponents were prominent elected officials. Both of them were law enforcement professionals: one a recently retired Police Chief, the other a CCPOA Prison guard – each potentially drawing the interest (and funding) from public safety unions. Eric knew his own fundraising prospects were limited as well.
At the end of the day, what put Linder over the edge in deciding to take the challenge was the fact that he felt neither candidate really represented the Republican Party’s ideals. How could either reform a bankrupted Pension System, when each personally benefitted from it? How could either be trusted to stand firm on taxes, when neither would sign a pledge to oppose them?
Once in the race, Eric asked his friends Brandon Powers and Jenniffer Rodriguez if they would run the campaign. They both naturally agreed, and set out some fundamental elements of Eric’s campaign.
- Anyone involved would need to do so as a friend, and take on the race for next to nothing. The campaign just realistically wouldn’t have the funds to afford consultant overhead.
- Knowing the race would be lightly funded by each candidate, Brandon saw that mail pieces would be at a premium – and thus invested what money the campaign had early in the best of the slate mailers that were to be mailing in the District.
- Brandon gambled that although this would be the first election in the new Open Primary era, that Republican voters would still act like Republicans, and Democrats like Democrats. Thus, rather than positioning Linder as a middle-of-the-road candidate – Eric campaigned as a true Republican, just as a candidate would have in the old closed-Primary days.
The campaign got a big break just after the close of filing. By really maximizing the use of their relationships within the Party – the campaign landed the endorsement from the California Republican Party. Because my position as Republican National Committeeman for California gives me a seat on the CRP Board, I was proud to support Eric’s endorsement. Maybe more than in any other race in California, this primary showcased the power of the Republican Party endorsement – despite the top-two primary rules.
As the mail began to hit, it was clear that the campaign’s fear about union independent expenditure influence was well-founded.
CCPOA and the SEIU collectively spent ~$100,000 on Greg Kraft’s behalf. In addition, Kraft’s campaign alone outspent Linder 4:1.
So, how did Linder win?
As the old saying about campaigns goes, “message matters.”
In a turnout that leaned more heavily Republican than even most predicted, Eric Linder was the only candidate to actually campaign as one, and the only candidate to really stay on message.
To look at the union-funded independent expenditures, one couldn’t tell if Kraft was the consummate career politician, or an upstart outsider looking to shake up the system… Whether he was the pro-public safety guy, or the education guy. The only consistency between any of Kraft’s support was really only his name written on the mailers.
In addition, the unions were consistently tone deaf about communicating to Republican Primary voters. One piece to Republican houses even touted Kraft as a candidate who would “stand up to Budget Cuts to Education.”
Linder’s message was far simpler. Conservative. Endorsed by the California Republican Party. Endorsed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Period. End of story. Repeated in every speech, at every door knocked on, on every slate mailer, and on his mail pieces. To anyone paying remote attention, it was tough to miss that Eric Linder was the only conservative running.
Going into Election Day, even many of Linder’s friends didn’t give him much of a chance to win. Not because they didn’t believe Eric had run a good campaign, but just because of how massively he was outspent.
Linder spent a little more than $25,000, with another $10,000 coming in a single independent expenditure mailer from a conservative taxpayer group.
Kraft spent $100,000, with an additional $100,000 coming from labor union independent expenditures.
For those without a calculator in front of them – that’s Linder being outspent almost 6:1.
And despite that, Linder finished with 28% of the vote, and the next nearest Republican at 20%.
Legendary Democrat political consultant Joseph Napolitan was famous for saying that there were three simple steps to winning any campaign:
1. Decide what to say.
2. Decide how to say it.
3. Say it.
More than maybe any campaign this year, Eric Linder’s campaign put this advice to use.
They bet the house that even though given the opportunity to vote across Party-lines, Republican voters were still Republicans at heart.
They stretched every dollar to its absolute limit.
And they stuck with it through Election Day.
As a result, Eric Linder is now the Republican “nominee” to replace Assemblyman Jeff Miller in the State Assembly. And he has a beautifully run campaign to thank for that.
Now his race isn’t over by any stretch. This District was a “Lean” Republican seat to begin with. When the new lines were finalized, it had a Republican voter registration advantage of 4%. Since then, the Democrats have been spending lavishly to register voters for the overlapping targeted State Senate seat, dragging down the Republican registration advantage in AD60 to just under 2% at current.
Eric Linder should still win this seat, provided he doesn’t take it for granted. But given how effectively he put his resources to work in the Primary – it’s entirely probable that by this time next year, we’ll be calling Eric the Honorable Eric Linder. And that’s a great thing.
FlashReport’s Publisher, Jon Fleischman, who was onboard with Linder’s campaign from the day of it’s late-start, told me, “This was an impressive, text book operation. As a candidate, Eric was laser-focused on the goals of raising money and making voter contact, with no distractions. Brandon Powers and Jenniffer Rodriguez were relentless in their commitment. While November is hardly a slam-dunk, ‘Team Linder’ is already focused on doing what they need to do to win in the General election.”