Orange County candidates who lost June primary say rival entered race just to lure away GOP votes
Two Orange County Republicans who ran unsuccessfully for the state Assembly in June want prosecutors to investigate whether the race’s two other GOP hopefuls worked together to ensure one of them would advance to the November general election.
Greg Haskin and Long Pham, who finished third and fourth, respectively, in the five-man race for the 72nd Assembly District, allege that candidate Richard Laird was “placed on the ballot” by supporters of Tyler Diep — one of the race’s more prominent contenders — “for the sole purpose of siphoning votes away from Diep’s opponents.”
Haskin and Pham made the accusations in an Aug. 6 letter to Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas. A representative for Rackauckas confirmed the complaint had been received and said it was currently under review.
The situation “just shows a total lack of respect for the process and for voters,” Haskin said in an interview Tuesday.
The accusation offers a glimpse into the challenges faced by candidates and voters alike in down-ballot races — especially those with a crowded field of contenders from one party. Republicans outnumber Democrats in the Assembly district, which stretches along the coastline south of Seal Beach, east to Westminster and down to Fountain Valley. But Democrats rallied behind a single candidate, businessman Josh Lowenthal, who came in first with almost 37% of the vote.
That meant the four Republicans were pitted against one another for the second and final spot on November’s ballot. Diep, the vice mayor of Westminster, and Haskin, a former executive director of the Orange County Republican Party, both raised significant money for the contest. They also split the endorsements of prominent Republicans, though Diep had the blessing of the incumbent, Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach), who lost the primary election for governor.
Key to the complaint filed by the two candidates is that Laird, the fourth Republican candidate, is the son of Diep’s campaign co-chairman, Ed Laird. The losing GOP candidates pointed out in their letter to the district attorney that the elder Laird hosted a campaign event for Diep last September and prominently displays a photo from the event on his Facebook page.
Six months later, just before the close of the filing period, Laird’s son entered the race. He didn’t report any campaign spending, and election records do not show that he voted in the June election in which he was a candidate.
Richard and Ed Laird did not return phone calls seeking comment. The Diep campaign called the accusations “frivolous.”
“This is a disappointing political ploy by two primary election opponents who are clearly still bitter and only interested in hurting Tyler’s general election campaign,” Stephen Puetz, a strategist for Diep, said in a written statement.
Republicans have historically kept a strong hold on the seat. Haskin and Diep were the focus of almost $220,000 in spending by independent political action committees and engaged in a bitter campaign. But even if Richard Laird had not been in the race and all of his votes had gone to Haskin, it wouldn’t have been enough to change the outcome on election day — when Haskin finished more than 9 percentage points behind Diep.
Haskin’s campaign didn’t formally contest Laird’s candidacy during the election season. But he said Tuesday that there was nothing to indicate the late entrant in the race had any track record in politics or public policy, adding that he did not he see his challenger on the campaign trail.
“We didn’t see a single sign of Richard Laird anywhere in the process,” Haskin said.
Haskin and Pham also accuse Laird of using a ballot designation “almost identical” to that used by Haskin — both were described as a “business owner.” Election researchers have long studied the impact of ballot titles in races in which voters have little other information about the candidates.
The two failed candidates, in their letter to the district attorney, cite provisions in California election law that prohibit improper filing to run for office and payments to influence a candidate. The complainants haven’t offered specific evidence of such violations, asking instead that the district attorney take a closer look at the relationship between Diep and the two members of the Laird family.
“It’s not really about the outcome of the election so much as it is the honesty of the people running in the election,” Haskin said.