In the statewide election that took place earlier this month, something happened in a race for the State Assembly that should matter to every reader of this column, whether you live in Butte County to the north, or San Diego to the South, whether you live on the Central Coast or in the Central Valley. An attempt was made, using the new “top-two” election system created by Proposition 14, to knock off a conservative, incumbent member of the State Assembly whose only crime was that he was, literally, too conservative. Here is what happened…
As you know, after the decennial census process was complete, all of the political boundaries for California legislative districts were redrawn (with the passage of Propositions 11 and 20, this was now done by a so-called “independent” California Citizens Commission. This didn’t turn out so well for the GOP, but that I have written about elsewhere. In the heart of Orange County, freshman Assemblyman Allan Mansoor saw his current 68th District carved up quite a bit. Mansoor, of course, chose to run in the new 74th District, where he lived, which contains the city of Costa Mesa, where he served as Mayor. While Mansoor, a retired Orange County Deputy Sheriff, was well known in his home town, he was not known to around 70% of the district, made up of communities he had never represented. Mansoor is an affable blue-collar conservative, and has been a dependable pro-taxpayer vote in the legislature. It helps the party that he was the first Lebanese Republican elected to the California legislature.
Principled, quiet and unassuming Allan had no idea he re-election chances were carefully gauged by hostile forces hundreds of miles north from the district. Mansoor, as an incumbent, didn’t help himself for his failure to raise money for his re-election. Because of a new district and his startling lack of resources, Allan became an attractive target. Merely being a nice person and conservative wasn’t enough to keep danger away…
It became obvious this spring to the Scott Baugh, Orange County’s Republican Party Chairman and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, both of whom happen to live in the new 74th District, that there might be an effort to challenge incumbent Mansoor to replace him with a more ‘moderate’ candidate. Redistricting plus the advent of the untested “top-two” election, introduced the Louisiana-style jungle ballot where everyone would run on one ballot and the top two would fight it out in the fall. The thinking was that if a moderate Republican could get in the top two — the moderate would win independent and Democrat votes to win the Assembly seat from a conservative Republican. It appeared that the test ground was the 74 AD. Or so thought a very wealth Bay Area Republican looking for just such an opportunity…
Unlike many Members of Congress, Rohrabacher happily lives in his district and enjoys seeing his triplets growing up. Rohabacher believes he has a duty to invigorate grass root conservatives and begin to build local headquarters throughout his district last fall. That was a happy coincidence to Allan Mansoor. Rohrabacher rallied hundreds of volunteers, many of whom are Tea Party members, with full-time headquarters in Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa and Laguna Beach, who as it turns out produced hundreds of field hours for Mansoor. Rohrabacher’s team, headed up by his wife, Rhonda, a longtime grassroots leader in her own right, launched a program to cover 150 key precincts with a cutting edge software technology called “Precinct Patrol” [PP]. Each precinct worker would use their own iPad or smart phone to survey voters. PP would provide maps, directions information of each voter approached. High propensity voters were targeted. Questions were asked who they supported and what their chief policy concerns were. As the precinct worker entered the data, Rohrabacher’s HQ’s would receive the data in real time. The HQ’s would ‘see’ where the workers were located and measure the quality of the responses given by voters. The data banked was impressive.
At the same time OC GOP Chairman Scott Baugh, who also was a former Assembly GOP Leader, Scott Baugh was quick to engage as soon as it became clear that the California Republican Party’s endorsed candidate for the Assembly, Mansoor, would be challenged. Baugh was very disappointed, and agitated, of course, and he had not anticipated that the GOP’s endorsed candidates would be challenged by other Republicans — that candidate was moderate Newport Beach City Councilwoman Leslie Daigle. Baugh was not to be trifled with. Allan easily was endorsed by the Orange County Republican Party, an action was affirmed by the California Republican Party. When Chairman Baugh learned that serious outside money would be poured against the official party endorsed candidate – he went to work. Baugh had heard that Charles Munger, Jr., the wealthy son of Charles Munger, Sr. (the billionaire business partner of Warren Buffet) — who hailed from the San Francisco Bay Area — was preparing to spend whatever it would take to elect Daigle and show that a moderate who refused to sign a pledge to oppose tax increases could win that race.
Suddenly, Baugh figured he had to raise at least $200,000 to communicate to Republicans in the new coastal district (this would be in addition to around $150,000 that Mansoor raised for his re-election after spending two years paying down his debt from the 2010 campaign). He brought in pollster Arnie Steinberg to identify the key issues to communicate to voters, and consultant Dave Gilliard, who seldom loses in his home base of Orange County, to develop the voter-contact mail. Scott knew that if the party rose to the occasion, that the power-play by moderate Munger could be beaten back. The key was to prevent Daigle from getting into the top two. Only three candidates were running and two were Republican. The danger was obvious. In a very conservative district, there might be enough votes to get two Republicans in a run-off. This occurred in many places in California, including a neighboring Assembly District.
The rumors proved to be quite accurate – Charles Munger, Jr along with the California Dental Association pumped well over a half-million dollars (along with some public employee unions) into the Newport Beach-Irvine-Costa Mesa district for Councilwoman Daigle (this in addition to the considerable funds she raised on her own). No one expected that much money all at once.
Fortunately for those who believe that we need strong conservatives in the legislature, or for those who believe that becoming a majority party will be difficult if precious party resources are spent having to defend “safe” Republican seats, things went very badly for Munger and his efforts in Orange County. Rohrabacher’s volunteers, Baugh’s county committee and Mansoor waged the fight of their political lives. The mailboxes groaned with incoming mail. Voters were called, visited and beseeched.
Soon after the polls closed on June 6th, it was clear that the Daigle play failed – miserably. Mansoor garnered over 43.5% of the vote and Democrat Bob Rush got some 32%, and the two of them will face off in November in what is considered a “safe” district for Republicans. And what of Daigle? She ended up with around 23% of the vote.
After the election, I took the opportunity to call Munger, and ask him Munger why he decided to fund such a large effort to remove an incumbent Republican legislator. Munger told me that that the 74th was really a new district – and that Mansoor had not represented most of it before. Moreover, he believes that Daigle was a better candidate. Munger told me he has not met Mansoor or Daigle. I asked him if he will make similar moves against conservative candidates in the future, he answered that he would support credible candidates to the best of his judgment. Munger admitted he knew his funding might make himself an issue [Click here to see one of the OC GOP mail pieces featuring Munger] in the campaign as some remote, wealthy person ‘interfering’ into local politics. Munger would not admit or deny that he got a ‘pass’ from Assembly Republican Leaders to take on Mansoor. A close advisor of Munger informed me it would inconceivable that Munger would make such a drastic move without informing the Leaders with whom he has carefully nurtured a close relationship (aided by deep pockets in a time of scarce resources). It is notable that Munger wrote a big check for an independent expenditure to help Sacramento-Area GOP Assemblywoman Beth Gaines in her struggle against Andy Pugno (though Munger’s efforts to keep Pugno out of the top-two were unsuccessful there). He covered his bets. Still, conservatives have cause to worry. While a reasonable person with whom to talk on the phone, Munger has a burning agenda. While he denies targeting conservatives to move the party to the left, this is contrary to what most observers believe is his political goal (last year he funded an effort to neuter the state GOP’s conservative platform). Whomever advised Munger to dump hundreds of thousands of dollars into trying to elect Daigle certainly gave him extraordinarily bad advice. Of the $700,000 or so that he spend trying to elect candidates in June (he has spent more than that on ballot measures and voter registration), burning the better half of it against conservative Mansoor has earned him enemies through Orange County and the ire of conservative legislators, donors and activists from around the state.
Of course questions linger about the whether there will be fallout for Munger. Of significant note is that in addition to being a member of the California Republican Party Central Committee, Munger is actually the Chairman of the Santa Clara County Republican Party. Is it appropriate, within the party’s bylaws, for someone in such party positions to fund the opposition to a party-endorsed candidate (let alone an incumbent legislator)? That issue remains to be resolved.
Political observers were impressed at volunteer actives network that was recruited and ably deployed by Congressman Rohrabacher. And Scott Baugh’s leadership in raising the dollars to successfully communicate the party’s endorsement to June voters was nothing short of amazing. Baugh will tell you that his biggest frustration was having to use party resources to fend off Munger’s assault, that would be been put to much better use fighting Democrats in the fall.
In closing a final lesson learned here is that even if you are a good blue collar conservative — never tire of raising a war chest, otherwise you face war. You are vulnerable. Conservatives will always win over a Rockefeller or a Ford, even with less money, because we have the robust critical ideas and the passion to support those ideas. I look forward to being on hand to see Assemblyman Mansoor sworn into his second term in the Assembly. He was almost almost martyr for the conservative cause.