With the endorsement of retiring Republican Rep. Wally Herger in his pocket, Republican Doug LaMalfa won in this reconstituted conservative district in California’s northeastern corner. The real test for LaMalfa was the GOP primary, in which he defeated several rivals to carry territory Herger represented in the old 2nd District.
LaMalfa hails from what he considers “the real California,” a wide swath of rural California north of Sacramento, close in distance but culturally removed from the liberal Bay Area. A fourth-generation rice farmer from Richvale, in Butte County, he was born in nearby Oroville and attended area schools. He later graduated with degrees in agriculture and business from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Today, LaMalfa and his wife, Jill, operate the farm his great-grandfather started in 1931.
LaMalfa served on various agricultural commissions before winning election in 2002 to the State Assembly, where he spent six years. In 2010, he was elected to the Senate, earning the highest number of votes of any candidate for California’s Legislature that year. LaMalfa has made his name in Sacramento by promoting agricultural interests and fighting new government spending and regulation. He led an effort to freeze funding for California’s voter-approved high-speed rail project, citing its cost overruns and curtailed route that eliminated service to San Diego and Sacramento. He also opposed a state-level Dream Act proposal giving financial aid to children of illegal immigrants. LaMalfa started “There Ought Not To Be A Law” contests, where citizens across California were invited to submit ideas for removing burdensome laws, with LaMalfa sponsoring the winning proposal.
Herger endorsed LaMalfa immediately after announcing his retirement, inviting criticism from those in Republican circles who objected to his “kingmaker” politics. LaMalfa’s campaign denied it had any prior knowledge of Herger’s plans. The campaign also became embroiled in controversy when it was discovered that one of its staffers set up an anonymous website attacking LaMalfa’s chief Republican rival, former state Sen. Sam Aanestad. The site, which criticized Aanestad’s record in the Senate and questioned whether he was truly a dentist, was taken down, but the Federal Election Commission investigated claims of illegal campaign expenditures and failure to disclose campaign communications.
In the primary, LaMalfa came in first under California’s new all-party system, getting 38 percent of the vote. The second-highest vote getter was Democrat Jim Reed with 25 percent. Both advanced to the general election.
The district was considered a long-shot pickup opportunity for Democrats, achievable only with significant investments of cash and other resources. LaMalfa, meanwhile, was named to the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Guns” program, which provided funds to favored candidates in GOP-leaning districts.
By late summer, LaMalfa had amassed five times more money than Reed, with the largest sums coming from agricultural interests. LaMalfa ran on a platform that heavily criticized excessive government spending, prompting critics to highlight the $4.7 million in federal agricultural subsidies he received for his family’s rice farm. LaMalfa claimed the federal help was necessary for a small farm to comply with onerous federal regulations.
Will Feeney contributed to this article.