I have decided that this post needs to be written, and it needs to be blunt.
Why? Because after watching the March 26 Candidate Town Hall—which featured a bunch of Democrats and Republicans (as well as an independent and a Libertarian) fighting to fill Dana Rohrabacher’s seat—I am furious, and fed up, and exasperated beyond the highest levels of exasperation.
Or, put different, I’m friggin’ pissed off.
So, I’m quite certain, are you.
In case you missed this, 45 minutes into the debate the Democrats were asked a fantastic, needs-to-be-addressed question from Kathleen, a 65-year-old woman from Fountain Valley. Here is what she said …
“I want to address the donkey in the room. Which is most of us don’t go to bed at night worried as much as Trump right now as our own ticket. And I want to thank Laura Oatman. She was brave. She fell on the sword. She had good polling numbers but she didn’t have rocket pole numbers. So my Democratic friends, I don’t want just a one-word answer on this one. How quickly are you going to look at the reality and the polls and join Laura in backing—I’m not going to say who—somebody that can go against … I don’t want a one-word answer. I want to hear courage. I want to hear the understanding of math. And I wanna hear that more than Laura is going to say very soon I’m going to graciously bow out, I’m going to graciously give my time to one other person. Pick the person and let’s get this thing narrowed down. Because we are in a crisis.”
So there is was. Right in front of them. The big question. The one we’ve all discussed. The moderator (who, well, missed this one in a huge way) said, “I think what she’s asking is, if you had to drop out, which candidate you would endorse. We could make this a quick one,”—and was greeted with boos. Why? Because that’s not an even remotely accurate translation of what Kathleen was asking.
No, what she wanted to know was—besides frontrunners Harley Rouda and Hans Kierstead (who provided their replies, too)—why are Michael Kotick, Omar Siddiqui and Rachel Payne still in the race? Why are they continuing to battle when they have no shot? Why are they risking skimming votes away from the leading Democrat in a funky primary system that will likely land two Republicans on the ballot.
Why are they doing this?
For a moment, I was excited to hear the answers. I truly was.
Then Kotick stepped to the mic.
It was bad.
Before he spoke, a man yelled, “We want to see some leadership from people on the stage!”
[My thoughts are annotated]
Enter: Michael Kotick.
“As passionately as you communicated the question, let me first say that I hear you. The Indivisble groups and the Huddle groups and all the groups are very robust on this narrative. But let me also provide some insight from my perspective, and I can give you the math as well sprinkled on top. Does that work?
“So the first place to start I think is the full recognition that all of us have been engaged on this race for a year. I know I started seeing most of you for the last nine months or so. Here’s the challenge, and this is truth that I am giving you. My team and I have knocked on 10,000 doors in the last three months. Do you know how many people can name a single person on this stage? Less than 10.[*]
[An audience member mumbles]
“First of all, no one’s going to split evenly. That’s not a real thing.”
[An audience member mumbles]
“The other piece of that is vote splitting happens when you have the same type of candidate going after the same type of audience. That’s when vote splitting happens. [**] Here’s what I will tell you and I will speak from my perspective because before I filed I got a poll back that told me an informed did I have a chance in this race. And my hurdle was the same hurdle that we all agreed to back in Seal Beach—which was 20 percent. And I cleared that hurdle so I filed.
“Here’s what different, even with the entrance of Scott Baugh. And I’m going to lay this strategy out. I’m gonna walk through my logic on this. There are three things that are credible about my campaign that are different than anyone else on this stage. No. 1, I have easily two times the amount of appeal with young people across all political affiliations. [***] That matters. That is not a vote-splitting issue. That is a real thing. Because I’ve gotta tell you it doesn’t matter if it’s an R, an I a D or an L—young people are gonna go where they’re inspired. And if they’re not they’re gonna stay home. That is a problem. No. 2, I will also tell you this entire process has everyone fighting over the 20-some odd percent of people in this district who are Democrats. Guess what? There are just as many people in this district who are No Party Preference. You will not split this seat with just Democrats. My candidacy is the only one of anyone on this stage that double digit enters into the NPP space, and I think that’s important. Because you wanna know where Scott Baugh’s gonna get his votes? Right there. So unless we have someone on this stage who can reach in and at the very least offset his gains you’re going to have vote splitting no matter which way you slice it. So if you ask me, this candidacy needs to be in the race to make sure that doesn’t happen and if we push someone through who cannot attract an NPP or a millennial, you can kiss the Flip the District goodbye.” [****]
* [Jeff note] OK, I’m calling bullshit here. I get the vast majority of Americans aren’t engaged. But you’re telling me 9,990 of 10,000 people knew none of the candidates? Really? Also, if we’re being honest, the 10,000 door line actually is an indictment of the Kotick campaign. This district is enormous, and knocking on doors—while quaint and admirable—is a terrible usage of time. It truly is. And I understand why people might cringe at that take. But ask any seasoned pol, and he/she will tell you the bang-for-buck just isn’t there.
** [Jeff note] This (“The other piece of that is vote splitting happens when you have the same type of candidate going after the same type of audience. That’s when vote splitting happens.”) is the type of line politicians try and sneak into a dialogue; one that makes little-to-no sense under a microscope. In this election, with the top two vote getters reaching the general election ballot, vote splitting will certainly occur within parties. We know Dana will be on the final ballot. It’s a guarantee. So that means all the Democrats and basically fighting Scott Baugh for one spot. To suggest this is about young v old or man v woman is inane. Democrats will look to vote Democratic. If there are a shitload of Dems running, that makes it all much more difficult.
*** [Jeff note] What does this (“I have easily two times the amount of appeal with young people across all political affiliations.”) even mean? Two times the amount? Why not three? Or four? Is there a formula for determining appeal? If so, can I borrow it?
**** [Jeff note] But show me anything that suggests you’re this guy. A-n-y-t-h-i-n-g.
Hans went, and next up was Omar …
“As an engineer and a lawyer I have to look at facts, I have to look at numbers, I have to look at data. [*] But one thing—despite everything I’ve done. Despite me being a lawyer, engineer, working with the government—I got a very hurtful and painful message yesterday. Which was, ‘Although though you’re the most qualified candidate, although you have met with presidents and you have worked with secretaries of state, one thing you do not have is a regular name. And it said that because of your name alone—Omar Siddiqui—drop out. No one will vote for you. Even though you’re the most qualified and educated candidate, no one in the 48th district will vote for Omar. [**] That hurt. And I lost sleep last night and I responded this morning. At about 4 am. I typed it up. And in my response—in fact, if it’s OK I’m just gonna read it.
“Thank you for your message, which was received—as you can imagine—with great emotion. It was very hurtful and painful to read. But the more I read it, the more I re-read it, it brought both tears and great inspiration to me. Your name being Martin as well was so symbolic, too. It reminded me of what people told Martin Luther King, Jr. To sit aside. ‘This isn’t your time.’ He responded with a testament of a dream on the steps of the sacred Lincoln Memorial, that one day America would judge not by the color of skin but by the content of one’s character. Your message brought back memories of a conversation I had with President Barack Hussein Obama. [***] While running for president of the United States that he was black; that his middle name was Hussein and that his last name rhymes with Osama. And that his family was Kenyan Muslim. But in the spirit of Martin Luther King he responded with this. ‘When we face down impossible odds, when we’ve been told that we’re not ready or that we shouldn’t try or that we can’t, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people—’Yes we can.’ He put his arm around me that day and told me, ‘Yes, you can.’ Join me on the right side of history. Help us spread the message that in our great country everything and anything is possible. I know in your heart that’s the America we and Martin Luther King dreamed of. Let’s be the change that we seek. Let’s make that a reality. Yes we can.
“I’m not dropping out because of my name. I’m not dropping out because of who I am. I want you to vote for me because of my character, my background and what I’ve done. Statistics and math—I knocked on thousands of doors, made thousands of phone calls. We are aware of the Fight Back California poll that came out recently. And, yes, that poll indicates that when you vote only on a Laura or a Hans or a Harley, Michael—Omar by itself doesn’t do anything. In fact, it might be scary to some people. Like Hussein Obama. But once you add the description and you talk about what I’ve done for our nation and the sacrifices that I make, we skyrocket. And if you look at that poll as well, that poll doesn’t take into account the 40 percent of our district that’s people of color. The Vietnamese community in Garden Grove. The Latin community in Costa Mesa and Santa Ana. Take into consideration that I am the candidate who wants to represent everybody.[****]
“We have raised over $600,000, up with the top two candidates, up with the top two candidates. We have spent $70,000 on this campaign—where my competitors, the top two, have spent close to $400,000. We haven’t even started our engines yet. [*****] Our own internal data indicates that with our ground game and our money, we are going to be comfortable where we are. We have to remember two things: As Michael said, our race is going to be dependent on the No Party Preference, the millennials and the people of color who showed up to run and vote. That is what we need to remember as well.
“Finally, quite frankly, what I think is going to hurt the Democrats the most is the attacks on each other. We as Democrats need to support each other and stop attacking each other.”
* [Jeff note] Show me any numbers that suggest Omar can win. Because I’ve seen none.
** [Jeff note] I’m not entirely buying this. I’ve received, oh, 1,000 hate letters throughout my career in journalism. My first came in Nashville, back in 1993. Hell, here it is …
One thing I can tell you about hate letters—no one ever tries to level it out with compliments. So while I don’t doubt Omar has received venomous mail, I’m sorta skeptical the person also complimented him on being the “most qualified and educated.” Small thing—but I live skeptically.
*** [Jeff note] Among people involved in this election, counting Omar’s Barack Obama name drops has turned into something of a sport. I don’t doubt that Omar met the beloved former president. I don’t doubt that they spoke. But after a while—to cite Michael B. Jordan in “Creed,—you gotta show. Wanna win this election? Wanna rocket to the front? Have Barack Obama endorse you. Campaign for you. Write a letter on your behalf. Something. Because while I covered Major League Baseball for nearly six years at Sports Illustrated, and while I interviewed Derek Jeter multiple times, that doesn’t really mean we’re close. But I can (Derek Jeter) say (Derek Jeter) his name (Derek Jeter) repeatedly, and give a pretty favorable impression of my ties to Derek Jeter. “As Derek Jeter once said to me …”
**** [Jeff note] These sort of lines drive me to drink. Who doesn’t want to be the candidate to represent everybody?
***** [Jeff note] Huge red flag. You haven’t even started your engines yet? What in the world does that mean? If you don’t earn enough votes in June, your campaign is over. Done. Dead. So what in the world could you possibly be waiting for?
With that, the moderator was ready to move on. She swiveled to the next question, but was shouted down by some audience members who wanted to hear from Rachel.
So, Enter: Rachel Payne.
“When I entered the race I was told that I was too young [*], that I was too inexperienced and that I should wait my turn. [**] These last few days I’ve been getting a lot of similar messages about how I should just back one of the guys [***] and step aside and wait. Which I appreciate where that’s coming from, because where that’s coming from is fear. Because we can’t bear to have Dana Rohrabacher in for one more term. And I am with you on that. I am absolutely with you on that. I met him 10 years ago and I’ve had my eye on him since then. And there isn’t an issue on the planet that we do agree on, that I know of.
“But we can’t be ruled by fear. And when one woman running is one too many, and we have less than 19 percent representation at the highest levels of government—what type of nation is this? Yes, I have a great ground game, I have a great digital game, [****] I’ve got a lot coming. But when you think about the math, if we were to really coalesce then we all should have all dropped out on March 11 because nonetheless everyone’s name is on the ballot and the math doesn’t really change. We’re all on the ballot. [*****]
“So the best thing that we can do, and this is my promise, is to go out and find those people who don’t have high-propensity voting records, who are under threat, who are concerned about voting. Maybe it’s the NPPs, maybe it’s the millennials, maybe it’s a lot of women. But it’s also people who haven’t regularly voted in midterms who we often overlook. And when I looked at that Monte Carlo simulation … I looked at all the models, the number one thing that became super clear to me in those predictions is that it’s all about getting out the vote, it’s all about increasing registration and let’s go and get so many of those student leaders who are now new voters to join this wave, to turn this district blue and to capture the new votes that are coming from people who haven’t been engaged, whose voices haven’t been heard and who have been ignored. By this representative in particular. So I will make that promise.
“And I tell you this: If I think this isn’t going to go anywhere, I will drop out. [******] But I’m getting a lot of momentum, a lot of excitement. I’m the only candidate that has national endorsement. Yes, I am the candidate that has national endorsement. [*******] And I will take to heart what I’m hearing. But I will ask the paid supporters to please stop bullying and harassing the people who support me.”
* [Jeff note] Um, Rachel was born in April of 1975. She’s about to turn 43. I have covered this race for a good while, and while there’ve been myriad criticisms of Rachel, “Too young” isn’t one of them. I’m calling bullshit. As a guy about to turn 46, I can say with remorseful confidence that no one is saying I’m “too young” for anything.
** [Jeff note] I’d argue this is an issue plaguing every Democrat running for the 48th. Where’s the political experience? They all jumped in without serving in any sort of lower office. That hurts.
*** [Jeff note] Not-so-subtle word choice. Laura Oatman was polling well and running a tight campaign. She could have certainly made the argument that gender played a role in her struggles. Rachel has simply run a poor campaign. Gender be damned.
**** [Jeff note] You’re following 4,681 people on Twitter, and you only have 3,462 followers. That’s not a great digital game.
***** [Jeff note] A weird-yet-honest concession that we’ve blown this thing. Rachel’s basically saying, “Look, we all screwed up. So, hey—I’m staying!”
****** [Jeff note] “Rachel, it’s me—your medial temporal lobe. This isn’t going anywhere.”
******* [Jeff note] This is a reference to Emily’s List.
Here’s the bottom line: Ego trumped good.
That’s really what it comes down to. Whether they admit it or not, Michael, Omar and Rachel know—deep down, perhaps—that they’re not in position to win this election. And, at this point, it’s not because we don’t want a young guy, or a man named Omar, or a woman.
No, we just want Dana Rohrabacher out.
It’s that simple.
Watching that debate made me angry, because no one actually gave a good reason for sticking around. They lacked numbers to back their claims. They lacked the humility to step aside. The just … lacked.
I won’t speak for anyone else—but if Dana Rohrabacher or Scott Baugh win this election, I’m going to remember those who put their own needs over the good of the district and, truly, the country. We have a golden opportunity, sitting immediately before us.
We’re blowing it.