When South Bay businessman Craig Huey filed to run for former Rep. Jane Harman’s congressional seat in next week’s special election, many political observers dismissed him as an underfunded, inexperienced candidate trying to cut his teeth in a crowded field.
That changed recently when Huey pumped half a million dollars of his own money into his campaign —enough to spread his conservative Republican, cut-federal-spending message throughout the strongly Democratic district. The money has gone toward mail, signs and TV and radio spots scheduled to start airing this week, all designed to put the first-time candidate on voters’ radars.
Huey, 60, owner of a Torrance advertising agency, has long been active in GOP politics, having served on party committees and as an informal advisor to candidates. He also runs three nonprofit voter websites, including one that helps fellow evangelical Christians identify candidates who reflect their values.
When added to the $16,000 he had collected from supporters, Huey’s cash infusion — two loans of $250,000 each — gave him the biggest war chest of all 16 candidates on the May 17 ballot. That includes contributions to the presumed front-runners in the race, Secretary of State Debra Bowen and Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, both Democrats. They had raised $338,000 and $424,000, respectively, by the April 27 end of the latest federal reporting period.
Even with his cash advantage, observers say, Huey faces long odds of making it into a runoff, which will be required between the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, if no one wins a majority next week. Even if he does survive the initial vote, he would almost certainly be defeated in the July 12 runoff because Democrats in the 36th Congressional District hold a nearly 18-point registration edge over Republicans.
In addition, Huey’s conservative views, including his stance against abortion and same-sex marriage, could be a hard sell among the 22% of district voters who are not affiliated with a political party.
“No social conservative could win in that district,” said former Republican strategist Allan Hoffenblum, now publisher of the nonpartisan California Target Book, which tracks legislative and congressional races in the state.
Instead, Hoffenblum said, Huey and the five other Republicans in the race are trying to position themselves to run next year, after a citizens commission will have produced new legislative and congressional districts. Many expect this district to once again include the Republican-leaning Palos Verdes Peninsula and provide a better opportunity for the GOP.
In spending so much now in a Democratic district, Huey “is not being careless,” Hoffenblum said. “He’s making an investment in 2012.”
Huey disagrees, saying he is “looking to win this race, not just prepare for the next one.” He said concerns about jobs, the economy and government spending — issues he says voters care most about — will put him over the top.
“I do believe there is a lot of anger out there … and I believe we can tap into this,” said Huey, who has called for immediate deep cuts in government spending to balance the budget and reduce the deficit. He has promised not to agree to any tax increase “ever” and says voters are fed up with “career politicians.”
Huey said Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) and other GOP leaders urged him to run and counts conservatives Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Granite Bay) and former Assemblyman Chuck Devore (R-Irvine) among his backers. He said he asked other Republican candidates to drop out to give the party a better chance at taking the Harman seat and was “disappointed” but not discouraged when most declined.
The father of five young adults, Huey lives with his second wife, Shelly, just outside the district in Rolling Hills Estates. Candidates for congressional seats are not required to live in their districts.