Chris Stoddard is a Republican running for Congress in the heavily Democratic 53rd Congressional District.
Not many people knew about him until this week, when a mystery mailer arrived in residents’ mailboxes promoting the candidate and set off infighting between two top Democrats in the race, one of whom filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission.
The mailer, which began making the rounds online Wednesday afternoon, is framed positively. It describes where Stoddard stands on key issues such as healthcare, homelessness, gun rights and immigration.
The piece of political advertising makes no mention of who paid for it, a disclosure that is legally required by the FEC.
Stoddard, a Marine Corps veteran and full-time pilot, says the mailer did not come from him. He said he was as surprised as anyone to see mailers about him making the rounds.
Stoddard has not been actively campaigning and hasn’t spent or raised any money in support of his candidacy. Despite that, he placed second in a Union-Tribune/10 News poll in early February.
“Whatever theories are out there about the mailer, I’m not going to speculate about why it is going on. I’ll just take the free advertising,” Stoddard said with a laugh.
Among Democrats, though, the mailers are no laughing matter.
Accusations are circulating that a Democratic candidate, Sara Jacobs, or her supporters, produced the piece supporting Stoddard. Those accusations are from Jacobs’ top Democratic opponent, Georgette Gómez, San Diego City Council president.
It’s a tactic that springs from California’s jungle primary system, which allows the top two vote-getters to advance to the general election in November, regardless of political party.
Some political observers had expected that two Democrats would finish at the top in next Tuesday’s primary, given party fund-raising trends and the fact that registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans nearly 2-to-1 in the district.
However, the Union-Tribune/10News poll earlier this month found Jacobs, a former State Department contractor and granddaughter of Qualcolmm co-founder Irwin Jacobs, was the runaway favorite in a field of 14 candidates.
No other Democratic candidate polled higher than 5%, while Jacobs polled at 23%. Stoddard, one of three Republicans, polled at 10%.
Gómez, long regarded as the other leading Democratic candidate, is accusing Jacobs’ campaign of circulating the Stoddard mailer in an effort to ensure that Stoddard is Jacobs’ opponent in the general election.
In that hypothetical contest, Jacobs would be the overwhelming favorite.
Gómez’s campaign contends that other recent television and digital ads put out by Jacobs’ campaign support Stoddard as well.
In those television and digital ads — which prominently disclose they’re paid for by Jacobs’ campaign — Stoddard is depicted as Jacobs’ only opponent, and his positions are contrasted with hers.
Gómez’s campaign has filed a complaint with the FEC alleging that Jacobs’ campaign or an affiliated SuperPAC — funded by Jacobs’ grandparents — produced the mailers without a disclaimer. The complaint points to the television and digital ads and the financial resources supporting Jacobs as evidence, but it does not provide any tangible link between the Jacobs campaign and the mailers.
Dan Rottenstreich, Gómez’s campaign consultant, said no other candidate could be responsible.
“This is not even a phony attack but straight-up advocating for a Republican candidate without a disclaimer,” he said.
“It’s obvious what is going on here; Sara Jacobs is hiding the fact that she is supporting a Republican and running immoral, unethical ads .... If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”
Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, chairman of the San Diego County Democratic Party, also criticized the ads, comparing them to “the kind of deception you’d expect from Donald Trump and the Republicans.
“Jacobs has inflated her resume, misled voters on her endorsements, and now she’s running deceptive TV ads to trick voters into supporting a Republican,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said in a news release put out by Gómez’s campaign.
Jacobs’ campaign staff, meanwhile, adamantly deny it is responsible for the mailers promoting Stoddard.
“This mailer did not come from our campaign, and we don’t know who sent it,” said Morgan Hill, a spokesperson for the Jacobs campaign.
“This is the type of silly, baseless attack you often see right before Election Day, and voters are tired of it,” Hill said.
“Quite frankly, we expect better from fellow Democrats. Sara will stay focused on talking to voters about what she will do to make their lives better, as she has been doing throughout this campaign.”
Jacobs’ campaign also pushed back on the idea that their digital and television ads promoted Stoddard.
“The best way to energize Democratic voters in the final weeks of this primary is to remind them exactly what is at stake here in San Diego,” Hill said.
“Chris Stoddard proudly supports President Trump’s border wall and wants to loosen restrictions on guns in our communities. Sara believes that any candidate who supports Trump’s dangerous and harmful policies does not share San Diego values and should not represent the 53rd District in Congress.”
The 53rd Congressional District includes communities just north of Interstate 8, from Linda Vista to El Cajon, and areas south of the freeway, including Mission Hills, areas surrounding Balboa Park, parts of Mid-City, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley and parts of Chula Vista.
The 53rd District is a rare open congressional seat in San Diego County. Popular longtime Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, announced last year she intends to retire from Congress.