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Democrats spend $1 million on healthcare attack ad in California House race

Republican defense contractor Mike Garcia and Democratic state Assemblywoman Christy Smith will face off on May 12 to fill the remainder of former Rep. Katie Hill's term.
(Associated Press)

The coronavirus outbreak has forced political candidates to rethink the way they campaign, but Democrats are returning to a familiar strategy: focus on healthcare.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is spending nearly $1 million to air an ad highlighting Republican defense contractor Mike Garcia’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act ahead of a May 12 runoff to fill the remainder of former Rep. Katie Hill’s first term.

The buy — which includes cable, Spanish-language TV and digital spending — is the largest ad investment the DCCC has made in California’s 25th Congressional District this cycle. The spot began airing Saturday and will run until May 12.

Garcia is facing Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith of Santa Clarita in the runoff in the district, which covers Simi Valley, Porter Ranch, Santa Clarita, Palmdale and part of Lancaster.

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Smith and Garcia placed first and second in a March 3 special election to complete Hill’s term, but neither captured more than 50% of the vote, leading to the runoff. They were also the leaders in a primary held on the same day to represent the district starting in January 2021, and will compete a second time in the November general election.

The 30-second spot doesn’t reference COVID-19 by name, but alludes to the crisis: Images of a paramedic treating a patient in an ambulance flash on screen as a narrator stresses the need for a leader who “will put our health and safety first” now “more than ever.”

“But Mike Garcia would let insurance companies deny coverage for preexisting conditions and hike up costs for life-saving drugs,” says the ad’s narrator.

Hill beat former Republican Rep. Steve Knight in the 2018 midterm election by 9 percentage points, joining a wave of women who helped Democrats win back control of the lower chamber.

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She resigned in November after being accused of having affairs with a legislative aide, which she denied, and a campaign staffer. Her decision was influenced by the publication of her nude photos on a conservative news site without her consent.

The new ad, “Leader,” mirrors the message the party used two years ago. After years of defending the Affordable Care Act, Democrats ran on the healthcare law in the 2018 midterm elections, a year after Republicans attempted to repeal it. Democrats flipped 41 Republican-held seats that year, including the one represented by Hill.

Democrats have a 6.6-point voter registration advantage over Republicans in the district as of Feb. 18, but members of the party expressed concerns about turnout in a May runoff election even before the pandemic. Now the election will be mail-only, and it’s unclear who’s paying attention to the race. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report changed the race rating from “Likely Democratic” to “Lean Democrat” on March 19.

It may not be safe to go to the polls in November. There is still time for states to switch to a mail-in ballot nationwide, but not much, and some states continue to resist.

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The National Republican Congressional Committee spent $690,000 on an ad released last week attacking Smith for voting for Assembly Bill 5, the law that blocks businesses from improperly classifying employees as independent contractors. The ad also accused her of voting in support of laying off teachers when she was a member of the Newhall School Board. The California Federation of Teachers, which backs Smith, called the attack “disingenuous.”

The healthcare ad is the second from Democrats to focus on the topic. The Smith campaign released a spot in February that criticized “Washington Republicans” for blocking efforts to reduce prescription drug prices.


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