In 2018, Katie Hill managed to flip a reliably “red” seat in California’s 25th district and quickly became the millennial darling of the Democrats. All of that came crashing down, as has obviously been quite well documented here at Redstate.
After Hill’s voluntary resignation the question went from “How can Democrats replicate Hill’s success in other red districts?” to “Was Hill’s victory a fluke?”
As the Democrat candidates work up to the primary elections, the GOP in Hill’s district has high hopes of returning the seat to its previous party affiliation. On Saturday evening, in a small but buzzing strip mall in Simi Valley, four Republican candidates participated in one of several debates leading up to the March 3rd primary. Two more official candidates were missing and one last-minute entry wasn’t official but somehow managed to find a few minutes of time on the debate stage nonetheless. The field definitely projected a theme early on in the evening – experienced, savvy politician vs. outsider, average Joes.
Hosted by the Republican Values Center, the debate was moderated by local radio host David Cruz. The attending candidates were (in no particular order):
Kenneth Jenks – veteran Marine, engineer and local business owner.
Daniel Mercuri – Navy veteran
Steve Knight – representative for CA-25 before losing the seat to Hill
Mike Garcia – Navy veteran
Absent from the debate were George Papadopoulos – a former Trump advisor who seems to be running on that fact and not much else – and Courtney Lackey, who unfortunately had to bow out of the debate at the last minute due to a death in the family.
Then there was David Lozano, a last-minute entry into the race who was not able to meet the fundraising threshold for the debate but perplexingly was still offered several minutes of time on the debate stage. This reporter has not seen anything like it before. Moderator David Cruz chose to eat up nearly 5 minutes in total of the time for the official candidates in order to give Lozano an opening, closing and even answer a question or two in the middle of the debate. None of the official debate candidates raised an objection, but the whole thing was quite bizarre, to say the least.
Maybe that’s just how they do things in Simi Valley.
Regardless, the debate quickly separated the candidates from the start. It was clear almost immediately that the top two candidates for consideration were Steve Knight and Mike Garcia.
Knight spent much time touting his previous record as the district’s representative and his wealth of experience in politics and the climate of Capitol Hill. He used a lot of his time to talk about the necessity of being able to reach across the aisle and create bipartisan legislation. Knight certainly looked and sounded the part of the experienced politician, even as the moderator continually interrupted his response time with increasingly pointed and aggressive questioning. Perhaps Cruz just didn’t like Knight, but no doubt he also recognized that Knight is a leading candidate and thus deserved more scrutiny. That tactic didn’t sit well with some in the audience, but it did back Knight up on a couple of key issue. He floundered when it came to building the wall and curbing illegal immigration. When asked about ending “sanctuary city laws”, the former CA25 rep began with a “but” that led into an appeal to voters to temper their expectations over the issue, going on to imply that ending “sanctuary cities” altogether is unrealistic given the congressional climate. Cruz pressed him to clarify and Knight responded that he’d love to see the end of sanctuary policies, but the audience seemed to only have registered his “but” by that point. Knight’s weaknesses were his “political speak” and his refusal to definitively commit to fighting sanctuary policies. His strengths of the evening were his experience and confidence as the only one of the pledged candidates with the knowledge of how things actually work on Capitol Hill.
Garcia took a much different approach. While he doesn’t have the experience of Knight to rely on, he was sure to expound on his experience as a Navy fighter pilot and businessman. His debate approach focused on driving home a few key talking points over and over again – he has the fundraising apparatus to go all the way, he has the endorsements, and he got in the race early to give himself enough time to learn the ropes, learn the field and earn the donations. Garcia took the conservative hard line on most of the questions – build a wall, strengthen ICE, support California’s aerospace industry and support the President’s policy. Garcia seemed to know his audience, but that was unsurprising given that his campaign occupies space just a few doors down from the RVC storefront. Garcia naturally could not match Knight’s resume but he did very well at exuding an air of confidence and assuming a “politician’s gait”.
Although this post has not intentionally ignored the other candidates, it is becoming crystal clear that only 3 people are truly vying for the top GOP slot in the March 3rd primaries – Knight (as an experienced insider), Garcia (as a conservative outsider) and Papadopoulos (as a guy who has over 200k followers on Twitter).
I would be remiss to mention that of all the candidates, Mercuri was the only one who mentioned the horrific effects of AB5 (the gig economy killer law) and it’s congressional sister bill The PRO Act. Jenks was the only candidate who repeatedly mentioned his support of school choice.
Lozano seemed nice, but once again I must mention how incredibly odd it seemed for him to be eating up the time of the official debate candidates and the issues the audience had come to hear from them. It seemed unfair and not well-thought out but again, Simi Valley is a small town – by California standards, anyway. Perhaps that’s just how things go there.
Courtney Lackey doesn’t even have a Twitter account and given their debate dispositions it seems hard to imagine Jenks or Mercuri going up against a Christy Smith or a Cenk Uygur on a general debate stage. However far their campaigns go they should be commended for stepping up and throwing their hats in the ring as citizen-politicians.
The winners of the March 3rd primaries will head to special runoff election on March 12th, at which time California and the nation will see whether or not Hill’s win was a one-off or new normal.