Menu Close

How will Trump involvement affect California congressional races in November election?

view original post

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Donald Trump’s shadow hovers over the congressional race between Kevin Kiley, Trump’s choice, and Kermit Jones.

Trump won only 34% of the 2020 votes in California, but he is in position to influence several House races in the state.

The former president endorsed Kiley, a Rocklin assemblyman, for the new 3rd Congressional District seat, and Wednesday claimed victory not only in his California picks but in other races where he endorsed around the country.

“President Donald Trump went 16-0 in last night’s elections, which includes Kevin Kiley’s commanding finish in California’s 3rd Congressional District. With much of the vote still outstanding, it appears Kevin has the wind at his back as he steams on towards November,” Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich told The Sacramento Bee.

Trump largely chose candidates who were considered headed to easy victories. Kiley, who was thought to be in a too-close-to-call race, was an exception.

But whether Trump should be doing more for Kiley, or for that matter the others he’s endorsed in the state, is a big question. Political professionals said that Trump’s endorsement has already delivered most of its value.

“Kiley wanted help to get to exactly where is now, which is to be the Republican nominee in a very Republican-leaning congressional district in a good year for Republicans,” said Jon Fleischman, former California Republican party executive director, of the Trump endorsement of Kiley. “Its main purpose is done.”

Kiley needs to follow the blueprint of Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who won with Trump’s backing but was careful not to appear too close to Trump, said Dan Schnur, a veteran political activist and political science professor who was a top aide to former California Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.

The Youngkin playbook, said Schnur, means “to distance himself from Trump as politely as possible while still running on many of his issues.”

The Trump factor has a different hue in the state’s Republican-held districts where the GOP candidate appears vulnerable.

Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, is in a redrawn district that President Joe Biden won by 13 points in 2020. Valadao voted to impeach Trump last year, and while not criticizing him has been largely silent on his policies. Trump did not endorse a Republican in the race.

Valadao’s facing a tough challenge from Democratic Assemblyman Rudy Salas of Bakersfield, who had 47% of the primary vote in the latest tally, leading Valadao and other candidates. Republicans collectively, though, had 53%, signaling the race will be tight.

Reps. Michelle Steel, R-Seal Beach, Young Kim, R-Fullerton and Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, also have stayed largely clear of Trump in their swing districts, and they did not get his endorsement.

What’s Trump’s backing mean?

Trump won the 3rd District, which includes 10 counties from Plumas down to Inyo, with about 50% in 2020.

This somewhat split decision means Kiley needs to appeal to independents and even Democrats while not alienating the Trump forces.

“President Trump will not be the focus of the Kiley campaign for November,” GOP consultant Matt Rexroad said.

Fleischman agreed. “I don’t think he’s going to use that endorsement much going forward except with people that are identified as strong Trump supporters to help get out his vote,” he said.

Asked what Tuesday’s vote meant, and about potential Trump involvement, Kiley campaign consultant Dave Gilliard said, “Inflation and the economy are the overriding issues in the 3rd District and voters demonstrated by choosing Kiley that they wanted a fighter who would take on Biden and Pelosi and their policies that have wrecked the nation’s economy.”

Trump has not said how much, if at all, he will get involved. During the primary campaign he made no appearances or pitches for Kiley, and there’s no evidence he helped raise money.

When pressed, Kiley has made it clear he’s frequently in Trump’s corner. During the May 31 debate with his rivals, he would not answer yes or no to a question about whether President Joe Biden was legitimately elected.

Kermit Jones and Trump

While Kiley will likely keep a careful distance from Trump, Jones faces his own delicate challenge in positioning himself. He’s running in what’s considered a Republican district, and he stresses his desire to remain free of partisan politics.

After it became clear Tuesday night that he’d be on the November ballot, Jones’ nine-paragraph statement did not mention that he was a Democrat.

“This campaign started because I could no longer sit on the sidelines at a time when we need leaders who will put partisanship aside and step up and serve this community,” he said.

Earlier in the campaign, when asked by The Bee if he would support House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, as House Democratic leader, he said, “I don’t know who else would be running. I’d have to see who’s running.”

The Trump factor does give Jones the opportunity to try to paint Kiley as part of the Republican Party’s extremists wing.

“When Trump does come up, the biggest takeaway is that his endorsement of Kiley is just another example of how Kiley is an extreme partisan who supports policies that hurt working families,” said Michaela Kurinsky-Malos, Jones’ campaign manager.

Trump is a “a double-edged sword,” said Democratic consultant Steve Maviglio.

“Kermit Jones will associate all things suburban voters don’t like about Trump with Kiley, from the insurrection to choice (on abortion), forcing Kiley to try to distance himself. That, in turn, would likely alienate some Republicans,” he said. Kiley told The Bee that he condemned the violence at the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

In the end, Maviglio called the race “a classic study on whether Democrats can attract enough independent voters and anti-Trump Republicans to win. If Jones can raise enough money and nationalize the campaign, he’ll have a shot he otherwise might not have.”

To see what else is happening in Gallatin County subscribe to the online paper.