There's something that's been puzzling the staff of Democratic candidate Jim Reed's campaign for Congress in vast, rural CA-01 (for which I'm an organizer). Here's our question: if this is supposed to be a safe Republican district, why is Republican Doug LaMalfa's campaign behaving the way it's behaving?
LaMalfa--the farm-subsidy multimillionaire hypocritically running for Congress as a small-government conservative, while trying to hand off his seat in the State Senate to a chosen heir--had kept a tight lid on most of his issue positions for most of the campaign. Then, with a few weeks left, he suddenly let loose a slew of issue statements on his website that places him on the extreme fringe of the Republican Party. A parade of national Republican figures has marched through the district to raise money for his campaign--most recently a swank country-club appearance with House Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the part of the district closest to Sacramento. And then, our campaign received less than 48 hours notice that Team LaMalfa had decided to allow their tightly controlled candidate to participate in a League of Women Voters-sponsored debate.
Why? Details on these developments and a little bit of strategic analysis after the jump.
There are two key questions about the new developments in CA-01. Why has the LaMalfa campaign suddenly decided that it actually needs to campaign--with Cantor's help, no less? And will their new tactics be effective?
The first question comes up because LaMalfa has worked all along to generate an heir-apparent invincibility. The then-State Senator stood with Rep. Wally Herger back in January and received the incumbent's endorsement in the same breath with his retirement announcement.
LaMalfa has spent much of the campaign acting like an incumbent--avoiding debates and trying to play kingmaker in other regional races. His campaign has given thousands to other California Congressional races.
Let's be honest here--the Reed campaign's meager fundraising efforts, in comparison to LaMalfa's Koch-addled cash flow, hasn't helped pierce this aura of invincibility. (Hint: You can help solve that problem by chipping in a few dollars through ActBlue!)
So his decision to suddenly run a campaign in these last days is a bit of a shift.
Three examples of shifts in LaMalfa's tactics
The first sign of LaMalfa's changing tactics came with a major update to the candidate's website last week. The website had long been dormant--it encouraged voters to turn out for the June 5 primary until well into September. The only entry under issues was a poorly-written, factually-challenged screed on Obamacare that appeared to be assembled by a random mashing together of various right-wing fever swamp chain emails.
Last week, LaMalfa's campaign finally posted a new set of positions, which were quickly decimated by Redding Record-Searchlight blogger Jeff Schauer. Several of these positions place him on the fringe of his own party. He calls to privatize "any job done by the federal government that is duplicated by a business"--schools, Medicare, prisons, you name it. He calls for cutting off foreign aid to any country where "attacks against American interests" take place--an idea correctly denounced even by hawks like John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman.
Second, LaMalfa has been hosting high-profile national Republicans like Congessmen Joe "You Lie!" Wilson and Eric Cantor. This is not quite so new a tactic, as LaMalfa has already played host to John Boehner twice. But the pace of these appearances is increasing.
Third, LaMalfa had spent almost the entire campaign avoiding opportunities to debate with Jim Reed. Now his campaign has changed its mind--coming off a televised debate last week, our team received notice just yesterday that LaMalfa had agreed to another one tonight. Do they think he needs another chance?
LaMalfa's team has insisted to local reporters that their campaign has done no internal polling. No third-party polls have been conducted either, to my knowledge. So do these events merely reflect a long-standing strategy of turning up the intensity in the last couple weeks? Or is LaMalfa feeling the intensity that our team has worked hard to generate in spite of our fundraising disadvantage?
It's no secret that vast swaths of the North State conservative grassroots are deeply disenchanted with Doug LaMalfa's exorbitant farm subsidies and the undemocratic cronyism his campaign and allies are engaged in. None of LaMalfa's conservative Republican primary opponents have endorsed him--two have endorsed our candidate. Another has filed an FEC complaint and a lawsuit against LaMalfa, for a smear website that the LaMalfa campaign falsely attributed to yet another Republican primary candidate. In another incident of intraparty disarray, a Glenn County GOP campaign office manager complained to local media after LaMalfa entered his office and indiscriminately tore down articles he didn't approve of from the walls. From our campaign's perspective, the Republican disarray is great motivation to fight like an underdog with a chance.
So will these tactics help LaMalfa?
Democratic candidate Jim Reed has had his positions published on the web since the beginning of this campaign. Anyone who has made any effort to follow this campaign knows exactly where he stands. So LaMalfa's decision to offer a counterpoint only provides us with material--plenty of it--to make the case that Jim's views are a better fit for the district.
Take foreign aid. Here's an audio clip of Jim discussing it in a recent interview. The thing is, this view is not only embraced by Democrats, it's also supported by Republican foreign policy leaders like John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
It's hard to dispute that having a whole lot of cash--from friends like Koch Industries, tobacco companies, and Wall Street--can help LaMalfa's campaign. But hosting events like this one make it look like the RNC has judged it better to treat the North State as an ATM than as a region to be fought for and won on substance. Further, for a candidate who has stated that he is no fan of moderates--yet claims he wants to work across the aisle--hosting polarizing figures like Wilson perhaps does not send the clearest message to the 20% of First District voters with no party affiliation.
As far as a third debate, here's what the past two have accomplished for him. At the first, he was pilloried in the national media as the second coming of Todd Akin when he claimed that abortion causes breast cancer, and then retracted the statement the next day. At the second, he dodged questions about whether he supports women's reproductive rights in cases of rape, incest, and risk to the life of the mother--a dodge that came back to bite him in several local papers today.
We'll keep you posted about where tonight's debate goes.
(Reminder: Please support Jim's campaign by chipping in a few dollars at ActBlue right now!)