Coming out of last Tuesday’s primary election, which featured multi-million dollar independent spending binges on a pair of Orange County state Assembly campaigns by business and labor, both sides are already gearing up for an even more epic confrontation in November.
Local GOP Chairman Scott Baugh last week told a gathering at Concordia University there was an important lesson to be drawn from the fact that moderates were unable to get Newport Beach City Councilwoman Leslie Daigle into the November runoff against the more conservative incumbent, Alan Mansoor, in the 74th Assembly District.
Pointing to what he called a “brush fire” in the victory of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who beat back a labor-sponsored recall election, Baugh said Republicans win when they don’t shy away from who they are.
Baugh took direct aim at Daigle, criticizing her campaign as “disingenuous and dishonest” because he said she filled out a questionnaire for the party casting herself as a conservative but put out election mail as a moderate.
“You have to govern on a vision,” Baugh said. “Your vision can’t depend on the audience.”
While both sides expect to benefit from a higher turnout in November, they seem to have different views of how to get their partisans to the polls.
“If you can’t figure out how to turn out your own base, you won’t be competitive,” Baugh said.
Meanwhile, a seemingly alternate reality is being pushed on the Democratic side in Orange County.
“You can and should attempt to appeal to the other party,” countered local Democratic Party Chairman Frank Barbaro at the Concordia University event.
Barbaro acknowleged that the expensive battle in the 69th Assembly District, which pitted Orange County Clerk-Recorder Tom Daly against labor leader Julio Perez, revealed a divide between the moderate and progressive wings of the local party.
During that election, business-backed political action committees spent nearly $1 million on Daly while committees supporting Perez spent just over $300,000.
The result was an energetic campaign where labor leaders in Orange County split on Daly, with trades unions like the Teamsters local 392 supporting Daly and the Orange County Labor Federation supporting Perez, who started with virtually no name identification.
On election night, tensions ran high as results came back that put Daly well out in front while Perez seemingly ran out of gas, finishing third behind Republican Jose Moreno and just ahead of Santa Ana Councilwoman Michele Martinez. Perez still has a chance to finish second with mail-in and provisional ballots still being counted.
Labor Federation Executive Director Tefere Gebre said Perez's position in the race was a victory in itself for labor.
Yet he was clearly frustrated on election night, lashing out against the Daly camp, with Assemblyman Jose Solorio, who currently holds the 69th District seat, arguing that the Democratic Party’s moderate approach in the primary spelled doom for working families.
Gebre accused Solorio and other Latino elected leaders in central Orange County of dividing the Latino vote because they keep jockeying for their own political gain as opposed to increasing overall participation.
“Solorio is dead to me,” Gebre said after the election. … I’m done recycling corporate whores.”
Gebre said Solorio had been attempting to craft a deal where whoever ran for the 69th District seat would not challenge him in two years when he runs for the state Senate seat now held by fellow Democrat Lou Correa, who, rumor has it, could be headed back for another run at a seat on the county Board of Supervisors when his term is up.
“We’re going to try to change this system … the recycling system,” Gebre said, calling out elected leaders like Solorio, Daly, Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, Correa and former Assemblyman Tom Umberg as “the establishment handshake.”
The impact is clear, Gebre said, and he doesn’t regret challenging it. “We don’t have a party that represents working people anymore. Now you have two corporate parties.”
Solorio denies any such deal and said he’s had a solid, labor-friendly voting record. Nonetheless, he said, the 69th is more moderate than Gebre and others think and points to the results of last week's primary as proof.
Meanwhile, other labor and party leaders are already preaching unity and saying the primary’s heated internal battles are in the rearview mirror. When asked whether the party will gather behind Daly, Barbaro said, “absolutely, and so will labor.”
While Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employees Association, the county’s largest public-sector union, doesn’t dispute the fundamentals of Gebre’s analysis, he also agreed with Barbaro on the prospects for November.
Berardino said “labor did an outstanding job” in the primary, noting that the frustration over moderates caused them “to take a candidate that never ran for office, had no name ID and defeat a seated city councilwoman [Martinez] whose city makes up 60 percent of the district.”
“The position that labor took was a sound one,” Berardino said, “and depending on how Daly does [if elected], we can make the decision to do the same thing again next election.”
But if Daly’s lead holds, Berardino has a very different approach than Gebre, which is to fully get behind the Democratic nominee.
“We’ve got to be sure that seat remains in Democratic hands,” he said. “I wouldn’t pin blue ribbons on either party, but Democrats are traditionally supportive of working families.”
“Through our money and the votes we turned o,ut, we demonstrated we can deliver,” Berardino said. “We made our point and now it’s time to make every effort in every direction, within labor and within the party, to work together.”
Berardino credited Daly because “from a campaign perspective, it was a technically well-executed campaign for a leader [in the polls]. He didn’t make any big mistakes. He was careful. He was very smart in how he handled himself.”
What is key, agreed Barbaro, Gebre and Berardino, is that the amount of corporate money flowing into elections has spiked after the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which has apparently paved the way for corporations to spend more on politics.
That, to them, has stark implications.
"I thought all the money wouldn’t work,” Gebre said. “It did.”
Solorio however, emphasized that some areas, like the 69th Assembly District, just aren't as liberal as Gebre and others think.
“A moderate Democrat and a Republican [as frontrunners],” Solorio said. “Doesn’t that indicate how moderate folks are?”
Solorio ran down a list of labor's recent Election Day defeats, including Umberg's loss to Janet Nguyen in the 2006 supervisor race, Supervisor Shawn Nelson's victory in 2010, Phu Nguyen’s unsuccessful bid for in the 2010 race for the 68th Assembly seat and a slate of unsuccessful candidates for Anaheim City Council in 2010.
"The labor federation political strategy has failed.," Solorio said. "And I think the leadership there really needs to look inward to see why they failed and how they begin to have winning strategies and how to work with everybody.”
The biggest challenge for both parties continues to be engaging Latino voters in areas like the 69th Assembly District, where turnout was very low in June.
Both sides see that community as key to turnout in November.
Gebre noted that labor had identified nearly 20,000 Latino votes. “We just couldn't get them to the polls,” he said. “Latinos vote in presidential elections. That’s it.”
He also notes that Democratic candidates must deliver on what they promise.
People came out for Obama for hope and a change they are still awaiting, Gebre notes. They also came out for Jerry Brown, and now he’s cutting their medical care.
“Working people don’t have a party anymore,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, Republicans are also trying to figure out how they can harness the potential voting power of Latinos.
At Concordia University, Baugh said Republicans must adjust their stance on immigration.
“Our party has a much more difficult challenge with the Latino vote. Republicans can’t have an attitude of 'Illegal means illegal; what else do you need to know?" he said. “I think that’s a very short-sighted analysis, and the Republican Party has to deal with that.”
While Baugh took credit for paying the filing fee for Moreno in the 69th Assembly District, it was a GOP Central Committee senior member Tim Whitacre who actually recruited Moreno and got him into the race.
“We can’t afford not to have a candidate in the 69th,” Whitacre said, acknowledging that he was behind the last-minute jockeying that took place to get Moreno on the ballot. “That would have looked horribly for us. It would look like we didn’t care enough about that community. Who knew he [Moreno] would place second?”
Ironically, just after Baugh made his announcements about a new Republican strategy toward Latinos, a notice went out that the Orange County GOP would be showcasing controversial Arizona Governor Jan Brewer at the party’s annual Flag Day Dinner in June.