Four Democrats have been battling for months over who was best suited to challenge Rep. Gary Miller (R-Rancho Cucamonga) for his Inland Empire congressional seat.
But when Miller announced in February that he wouldn't seek another term, he inadvertently laid the groundwork for a fight within his own party.
The battle escalated Friday between Lesli Gooch, a longtime former Miller aide who has his endorsement, and Paul Chabot, a military officer/businessman.
The Gooch campaign issued a news release announcing her endorsement by the San Bernardino County Republican Party.
"We must protect California's 31st District and keep it out of the hands of Nancy Pelosi," the GOP's county chairman, Assemblyman Curt Hagman of Chino Hills, said in a statement issued by the Gooch campaign.
"Lesli Gooch has quickly proven. .. she has the experience and a strong campaign organization that will defeat the Democrats in November," Hagman added.
Hours later, Chabot's campaign issued a "Dear Friends" email declaring "Gooch should withdraw from [the] race."
The basis for the demand? That Gooch's Washington lobbying firm had worked for Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeffrey Burum. Burum was among four people indicted in May 2011 on public corruption charges in connection with a land deal. He has pleaded not guilty.
"This shocking revelation should disqualify her from being considered for Congress," Chabot strategist John Thomas said in the email to supporters and reporters.
Gooch campaign spokesman Jeff Corless called Chabot's statement "sour grapes by a desperate candidate" who was angry because the county GOP backed Gooch's candidacy instead of his.
The mere fact that Gooch's firm formerly had Burum for a client does not in any way constitute wrongdoing on her part, Corless said, adding, "If Mr. Chabot can't get the facts straight, then he's not fit to serve in Congress."
Political consultant/businessman Ryan Downing is the other Republican on the ballot.
The Democrats are Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, former Rep. Joe Baca, Colton attorney Eloise Gomez Reyes and San Bernardino City Unified School District board member Danny Tillman.
The 31st Congressional District has been growing increasingly Democratic; the party had expected to win the seat two years ago.
But Miller won in 2012 when four Democrats split the primary vote, allowing Miller and another Republican to advance to the general election under the state's then-new "top-two" election system.
Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times