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Parties’ spending may expand battlefield for California Assembly races

Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) speaks on the Assembly floor last August. In a surprise move, the California Republican Party in the last week spent more than $325,000 against Gray.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

A flurry of recent campaign spending by both parties indicates the battlefield may be expanding in the fight to make or break the Democrats’ supermajority in the Assembly.

The most contested races in the Assembly have long been established: Republicans are looking to oust vulnernable first-term Democrats Sharon Quirk-Silva of Fullerton and Steve Fox of Palmdale. And both parties are spending heavily to claim an open Ventura County seat vacated by GOP Assemblyman Jeff Gorell.

But recently, both parties have gone farther afield.

The most attention-grabbing move so far has been the GOP’s strike against first-term Democratic Assemblyman Adam Gray. In the last week, according to filings with the secretary of state, the California Republican Party has spent more than $325,000 on independent expenditures to boost Jack Mobley, a Merced Republican who entered the primary election as a write-in candidate.

Mobley ran against Gray for the 21st Assembly seat in 2012 and lost by more than 16 percentage points. He also ran two unsuccessful campaigns against then-Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani.

Gray, a moderate Democrat, got an immediate assist from business interests. An independent group, Keeping Californians Working, dropped $30,000 on Tuesday for a radio ad opposing Mobley. The committee, which has so far spent more than $440,000 backing mostly moderate Democrats in the general election, has received $1 million from Chevron and six-figure donations from insurance companies, and dental and real estate associatons.

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Republicans have also dipped a toe in the 57th Assembly district, currently held by Assemblyman Ian Calderon (D-Whittier). Calderon, a first-term lawmaker, came in second in the June primary to his GOP challenger, Rita Topalian, even though Democrats hold a 20-point registration advantage.

Republicans spent around $30,000 last week on mailers boosting Topalian.

“We are 19 days away from the election and doing what we can to win elections,” said Kaitlyn MacGregor, communications director for the California Republican Party, when asked about the recent moves.

The latest forays have come in the form of independent expenditures overseen by GOP party chair Jim Brulte, not GOP leaders in the Assembly and Senate.

“By law, legislative leaders do not direct independent expenditure funds,” said Amanda Fulkerson, spokeswoman for the Assembly Republican caucus.

Whether these moves represent a genuine expansion of the campaign playing field, or a feint to distract Democrats remains to be seen. Democrats so far have responded with some help for their newly embattled members: Party committees sent $105,000 to Gray’s campaign Wednesday and $12,500 to Calderon.

They’re also starting to make their own incursions into new districts to keep Republicans on their toes. They’ve so far spent around $3,000 on mail for Katy Henry, a Democrat vying against Republican Marc Steinorth for the open 40th Assembly seat, which includes Rancho Cucamonga.

They also have given $20,000 to Ken Park, a Democrat challenging incumbent GOP Assemblyman Eric Linder of Corona in the 60th Assembly district. Assembly Democrats spokesman Steven Maviglio said the party is also purchasing $50,000 in television airtime against Linder and $50,000 for ads against Steinorth.

“We have the resources to expand the playing field, and we’re hopeful we’ll catch the Republicans sleeping in a few districts just like we did in 2012,” Maviglio said. “We’ve known for two years where we had to play big, and we’re doing that with strong get-out-the-vote operations and countering the right-wing [independent expenditure] spending where we need to.”

Follow @melmason on Twitter for more on California government and politics.


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