By John Hrabe | Two years ago, legislative Democrats pulled off an upset in the heart of conservative Orange County.
“I was a surprise win in the last election,” Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, said in a recent interview of her four-point victory over Republican Chris Norby. “And from the moment I won, there has been an effort to take back this seat.”
Quirk-Silva isn’t exactly giving up her seat without a fight.
As of October 18, the first-term Democrat had spent roughly $2.4 million this year to stave off her Republican challenger, Young Kim. To put that number into perspective, the Democratic governor of New Hampshire has spent roughly the same amount on her competitive re-election campaign, according to recent figures from the Associated Press.
Kim, a former aide to GOP Congressman Ed Royce, is no pauper either, having spent $1.4 million over the same period.
With its two fundraising powerhouses, the campaign for the 65th Assembly District is on track to be one of the most expensive races — at any level — in the country. Combined spending by both candidates, the two political parties and various independent expenditure committees is on pace to exceed $5.2 million.
For a more local perspective on this race, see Matt Leslie’s excellent post on the Fullerton Rag.
Spending on the race had already surpassed the $4.7 million mark on October 18, when the candidates had another half-million dollars at their disposal in cash on hand. Those preliminary figures also don’t account for other late expenditures expected to be spent on this weekend’s get out the vote efforts.
Big labor, big business fund Quirk-Silva’s campaign
Just two years ago, Maplight estimated each member of the California State Assembly, on average, raised $708,371, an average of $970 every day during the 2012 cycle. So, where is all of this additional money coming from?
On Quirk-Silva’s side, the funds can be traced back to both big business and big labor through party committees. Of the $2.65 million raised for her campaign, nearly $2 million has come from either the California Democratic Party or various Democratic central committees throughout the state. Those Democratic committees have accepted large checks from special interest groups that routinely lobby the Legislature, including insurance companies, defense contractors, oil companies and labor unions.
Kim’s campaign, which has raised $1.8 million, owes a third of its support to the California Republican Party, which has relied heavily on political activist and physicist Charles Munger Jr. for its support.
Race to decide Assembly supermajority
Both sides have invested big money in the race that could decide whether Democrats hold a two-thirds supermajority in the lower house, and thus have the votes to raise taxes without any GOP defections. And understandably, tax issues have taken center stage in the race.
In its early endorsement of Kim, the Orange County Register highlighted her position on taxes. “Ms. Kim is the better choice when it comes to protecting taxpayers and restoring the beleaguered California economy,” the paper wrote. “In her bid to serve the residents, she has focused on fixing the education system, making California more business-friendly, improving public safety and dealing with California’s crippling water and infrastructure issues.”
Taxpayer groups have also played an active role in the campaign. Eariler this month, Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, took umbrage with a mail piece from the Quirk-Silva campaign that implied an endorsement.
The first-term Orange County Democrat put her name alongside the taxpayer organization’s name, stating their shared support for Proposition 2, the Rainy Day Budget Stabilization Fund Act. The not-so-subtle goal of the slick mailer was to associate Quirk-Silva with the state’s most trusted taxpayer group, which has endorsed Kim. Coupal described it as “the most unusual attempt at deception we’ve seen this election.”
Neither side forgetting grassroots
The questionable tactics by Quirk-Silva’s campaign demonstrate the challenge that Democrats have in holding the seat. Although Democrats have a 1.7 percentage-point advantage in voter registration, the district is considered a “lean Republican” seat, according to the ATC Partisan Index, which ranks districts based on their competitiveness in the 2014 election.
The GOP’s hope for reclaiming the seat stems from a candidate who delivered a strong showing in the June primary. Kim, a first-generation Korean-American immigrant, earned the highest vote percentage of any GOP legislative challenger in the June 3rd primary, garnering 55 percent of the vote in the Democratic district.
She won voters over with her powerful immigrant success story.
“As many immigrant families did, my parents worked hard and struggled, but they also instilled in me the value of individual responsibility and living within a person’s means,” Kim wrote in a personal narrative featured in the Orange County Register earlier this year.
Kim’s message appears to be resonating with Asian voters, who have returned their absentee ballots at a slightly higher rate from two years ago. According to absentee ballot data from Political Data Inc., Asian absentee voting is up a point from 2012, while early voting by Latinos is down a point. The net gain of two points for Asian voters over Latino voters is expected to benefit Kim.
Republicans are also optimistic about the party breakdown of returned absentee ballots. Of the 27,372 absentee ballots that have been returned, 45 percent have been from Republicans, an 8 percentage-point advantage over Democrats, according to Political Data’s ballot tracker. That’s an improvement from 2012, when Republicans held a 6 percentage-point edge in absentee ballots.
Enticing volunteers with Korean BBQ
But don’t think that Kim’s advantage in early voting has made her complacent. On Thursday afternoon, Kim’s campaign enticed Republican activists to participate in the final weekend’s “Get Out The Vote” efforts by offering Korean BBQ.
“We need as many volunteers as possible to contact voters and tell them to cast their ballots for Young Kim, and I’m hoping you can join us,” Kim’s campaign wrote in its latest email alert to supporters. “Our office will be open 9a-9p every day between now and Election Day, with 3-hour shifts of canvassing and phone banking.”
Originally posted on CalWatchdog.