Dem money floods Calif. primaries to avert electoral disaster


Outside money is flooding into a trio of key California House primaries, as Democrats try to avoid being shut out of the general election. 

The total outside spending in those June 5 primary races had eclipsed more than $8 million as of Friday, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission filings by The Hill. The high-dollar spending is in the three GOP-held seats represented by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and retiring Reps. Darrell Issa and Ed Royce, all of which are viewed as potential pickup opportunities for Democrats.

{mosads}California’s “jungle” primary system pits all candidates, regardless of party, against one another in a single primary, with the top two vote-getters moving on to the general election. Democrats fear that crowded Democratic fields will split their party’s vote in some races, allowing Republicans to take both election slots.

Now outside groups are spending heavily in the races in an attempt to avert Democratic shutouts. 

California’s 39th District: $2 million in total outside spending 

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is easily the biggest spender in the primary for the seat now held by Royce. 

At first, the DCCC only focused on targeting Republicans — Shawn Nelson, a member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, and former state Sen. Bob Huff — as tensions boiled over between the Democratic front-runners.

Two Democratic super PACs, House Majority PAC (HMP) and Priorities USA Action, followed suit by also attacking both Huff and Nelson. HMP also targeted a third, lesser-known Republican, businessman Phil Liberatore. 

Those Democratic groups have spent a combined total of about $1.3 million attacking those Republican candidates — with about $1.1 million of that from the DCCC’s independent expenditure.

Meanwhile, national Democrats had largely stayed out of spending on behalf of a Democratic candidate. The DCCC elevated veteran and lottery winner Gil Cisneros to its “Red to Blue” program, which provides financial and organizational support to designated candidates.

Still, Democrats were treading carefully in a primary where tensions flared up between Cisneros and health insurance executive Andy Thorburn. After weeks of back-and-forth attacks, the California Democratic Party and the DCCC brokered an agreement that both candidates would cease negative campaigning in the final weeks before the primary.

Following the peace deal, the DCCC put $285,000 into an ad buy supporting Cisneros.

Overall, Democrats have put a half-million dollars into boosting Cisneros — a figure that includes the DCCC buy, as well as six-figure spending from two veterans groups, With Honor Fund Inc. and VoteVets.

The only Republican to benefit from significant outside spending is front-runner Young Kim, a former state assemblywoman and Royce staffer. The DCCC hasn’t gone after her, since it’s focused on ensuring that another Republican doesn’t get that second slot.

American Future Fund, an Iowa-based Republican group that promotes “conservative and free market principles,” has gotten heavily involved in a few California House races. The group has spent $316,998 boosting Kim.

One other Republican group, California Freedom and Prosperity Fund PAC, waded into this primary. It’s spent about $85,000 opposing Kim, while spending five figures boosting Nelson.

California’s 48th District: $3.2 million in total outside spending

Rohrabacher might be the incumbent, but he isn’t Democrats’ biggest target.

Democrats are more worried about Republican Scott Baugh, a former Orange County GOP chairman and past Rohrabacher ally, who is within striking distance of clinching the second spot for the November ballot.

Democratic groups have poured in about $1.2 million to try to suppress Baugh. The DCCC is again the biggest spender, with additional funds from House Majority PAC, Priorities USA, Environmental Defense Action Fund and Democratic group Fight Back California.

House Majority PAC plans to spend another $650,000 on a TV buy targeting Baugh that will start running a week before the primary, according to multiple news outlets.

But Baugh is getting some reinforcements of his own. American Future Fund is spending $637,000 to lift him up as he increasingly appears as a viable alternative to Rohrabacher. 

Meanwhile, some Republicans have a target on Rohrabacher’s back. 

The New OC Future PAC has poured in nearly $182,000 to oppose Rohrabacher. While the group has been mostly focused on knocking down Rohrabacher, it’s spent five figures opposing businessman Harley Rouda, one of the top Democrats.

Rohrabacher is getting a modest boost from a GOP group, Atlas PAC, which is spending nearly $63,000.

On the Democratic side, the DCCC has also started to lift up its preferred candidate: Rouda, who was also named to the “Red to Blue” program. The DCCC launched a joint $400,000 TV ad buy with his campaign.

The DCCC’s preference puts the national committee at odds with the California Democratic Party, whose delegates voted to endorse stem cell researcher Hans Keirstead at the February convention. Keirstead is getting a boost from 314 Action, a group that’s aiming to elect more scientists for public office. The group spent $103,500 on direct mail.

California’s 49th District: $3.3 million in total outside spending

The open-seat fight to replace Issa is the one race where it’s possible that either Democrats or Republicans could get shut out.

On the Democratic side, the race remains wide open between four candidates: Marine Corps veteran Doug Applegate, the 2016 Democratic nominee; Mike Levin, an environmental attorney; Sara Jacobs, a former nonprofit CEO; and Paul Kerr, a real estate investor and veteran. 

Many believe Jacobs, a first-time candidate, has gained momentum, especially with help from EMILY’s List, which aims to elect women who support abortion rights to public office. The group’s super PAC, Women Vote, has spent a whopping $1.6 million on TV ads and mailers.

Levin, who almost won the California Democratic Party’s endorsement, is getting a boost from top California donor Bill Bloomfield, who has spent about $173,000 on mailers. 

Most of the outside spending in the 49th District involves a few top Republican candidates.

State Assemblyman Rocky Chávez has endured the brunt of Democrats’ spending. The DCCC, House Majority PAC and Priorities have spent a combined total of $1.3 million opposing Chávez.

By comparison, Chávez is getting a small lift from GOP super PAC Spirit of Democracy America, which has spent about $29,000 backing him.

While Chávez has led some polls, some strategists in California also view Republican Diane Harkey, a member of the State Board of Equalization backed by Issa, as another top contender. American Future Fund is backing Harkey through $214,000 in direct mail. 

A third viable Republican candidate is San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Kristin Gaspar. She’s gotten some national attention from her meeting with President Trump about California’s “sanctuary state” laws. But there’s been no outside spending backing her.

Tags Dana Rohrabacher Darrell Issa Donald Trump Ed Royce
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