Michael Smolens: DeMaio targets the California Republican Party

Radio talk-show host and former City Council member has big ambitions beyond the Assembly seat he is seeking

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Campaign-commissioned polls released to the public almost always show their candidate favorably compared with opponents.

A survey from Carl DeMaio’s campaign does that and a whole lot more.

“Poll Shows Carl DeMaio Tops All Republicans, Including Donald Trump, As Most Favorable Political Leader in Assembly District 75,” reads the headline on the campaign’s widely distributed news release.

The release says his favorable ratings in the district are higher than those for state Sen. Brian Jones and county Supervisor Joel Anderson, two well-known East County Republicans who aren’t running in this race.

Far down on the favorability and name-identification chart is someone who is — Andrew Hayes, the Republican Party-endorsed candidate and an aide to Jones.

Never mind the specific results or typical skepticism about the legitimacy of a campaign-sponsored survey. The unspoken message is that if elected DeMaio would be a “political leader” reaching beyond the 75th Assembly District, which covers wide swaths of north and east San Diego County.

“I don’t think the Republican Party is in any condition to change California, and we intend to fix that,” DeMaio said in an interview.

The radio talk-show host and former San Diego City Council member has outsized ambitions: to lead the listless California GOP out of the political wilderness and not only revive it, but remold it in his image — or, more precisely, that of Reform California, the statewide political and policy organization he founded and chairs.

That’s been the main thrust of his short campaign so far. His toughest words since his surprise announcement last week have been aimed at establishment Republican leaders — though he continues to toss barbs at Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative Democrats.

DeMaio said GOP leaders in Sacramento “have been completely ineffective because they have been unwilling or unable to fight.” He added that many have a “lack of fortitude,” with the implication that he does not.

Audacious, for sure, but there’s a measurable bar: Republicans winning more Republican seats and changing the course of state government.

In fairly short order, DeMaio is promising a marked turnaround for a California GOP that has been in a downward spiral for decades. Democrats hold supermajorities in both the Assembly and state Senate, and Republicans have not won a statewide office since 2006.

Much of that decline was self-inflicted. The state GOP tilted more to the right and became ideologically rigid as the state became more Democratic and liberal. Moderate Republicans began leaving the party — a trend that picked up with the ascent of Donald Trump.

DeMaio’s prescription for turning things around relies on willpower — mostly his — and a focus on populist, quality-of-life issues, primarily opposition to taxes. Other Republicans, including former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and former state GOP Chair Ron Nehring, for some time have been calling on Republicans to elevate bipartisan pocketbook concerns and avoid divisive social issues.

DeMaio and Reform California — he expects to continue as its chair if elected — plan to key off various statewide ballot measures. Among them is a business-sponsored measure to make it more difficult to raise taxes and Democratic-backed propositions to make it easier.

DeMaio was a leading voice against a regional plan to charge drivers a mileage tax that became so controversial it was dropped by the San Diego Association of Governments, with some once-supporting Democrats abandoning the idea. The concept of replacing the gas tax with a mileage tax is under consideration at the state level.

DeMaio said he will oppose Proposition 1, a nearly $6.4 billion bond issue to fund mental health facilities across California pushed by Newsom and a bipartisan, though mostly Democratic, coalition. He also said he will target the emerging policy of basing utility bills in part on consumer income.

DeMaio believes he can rebuild the GOP by recruiting candidates who back him on these kinds of issues. Some DeMaio-endorsed candidates recently were elected to local councils and school boards.

Sacramento is a “natural extension of our movement,” he said.

He plans to create a “Reform Caucus” in the Legislature and broadcast his radio show daily over digital platforms, which he said is allowed for an elected official under Federal Communications Commission rules. He would have to give up his AM radio show aired locally on KOGO.

There is that little thing DeMaio needs to do before taking Sacramento and the GOP by storm: win an election.

The 75th district is heavily Republican and is currently represented by Marie Waldron, who is termed-out next year.

DeMaio announced via another release he already has $600,000 in the bank, and then there’s the potential campaign synergy with Reform California. In addition to Hayes, others who have filed to run for the seat are Christie Dougherty, Jack Fernandes, Joy Frew and Kevin Juza.

(The above paragraph as been updated to reflect the accurate fundraising figure.)

Unlike most of his other campaigns, DeMaio does not face a high-profile opponent. After serving one term on the council, he lost the 2012 San Diego mayor’s race to then-Rep. Bob Filner, a Democrat.

In 2014, he lost to Democratic Rep. Scott Peters in a purple coastal district.

He lost in a 2020 primary in a heavily GOP East County congressional district eventually won by then-former Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican.

DeMaio has a reputation as a combative and divisive figure. Democrats loathe him and he has his enemies in the GOP.

In a recent statement when he endorsed Hayes, Issa leveled harsh criticism of DeMaio, perplexingly trying to paint his former foe as a liberal who, among other things, “supports radical abortion-on-demand.”

DeMaio generally keeps his distance from social issues. The California Republican Party officially opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, despite efforts by moderate GOP activists to remove those planks from the party platform this year.

There’s no abortion-rights measure on the ballot in the coming election like there was last year, but a proposition will go before voters to strike the state’s same-sex marriage ban from the California Constitution. Court decisions have ruled the ban illegal, but supporters say the conservative Supreme Court could reverse that, which could revive 2008’s Proposition 8 if it stays on the books.

DeMaio, who is gay and married to his partner, dismisses the notion the ballot measure will impact his political plans.

Click here to read the full article in the SD Union Tribune


  1. Got a nice mailer from him on taxes and i appreciate his efforts on those issues. But a libertine Republican lacking the testicular fortitude to tackle social issues from the right perspective will never excite the grassroots enough to win in this state. Maybe if he got a “divorce” and renounced his support for same-sex “marriage”?

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