What Kind of Republican Is Carl DeMaio?

Carl DeMaio is campaigning for a House seat in California as a “next-generation Republican,” but Democrats say he’s still too conservative on many issues.

UNITED STATES - JULY 18: Candidate Carl DeMaio, R-Calif., is interviewed in CQ Roll Call offices. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
National Journal
Jack Fitzpatrick
Aug. 28, 2014, 2:03 a.m.

To win a swing dis­trict in Cali­for­nia, Carl De­Maio is run­ning as a “next gen­er­a­tion Re­pub­lic­an.” To try and keep the seat in Demo­crat­ic hands, Rep. Scott Peters is de­term­ined to re­place the first two words in De­Maio’s de­scrip­tion with “tea party,” as he tries to counter the Re­pub­lic­an’s grow­ing repu­ta­tion as a mod­er­ate.

Peters’s latest TV ad, re­leased Thursday, sets the tone for his cam­paign’s main ar­gu­ment: De­Maio may agree with Demo­crats on same-sex mar­riage, abor­tion, and some en­vir­on­ment­al is­sues, but his ab­ras­ive style on the San Diego City Coun­cil paints a pic­ture of an anti-com­prom­ise hard-liner, they say.

“Carl De­Maio’s hid­ing something, his al­le­gi­ance to ‘the tea party,’ call­ing them ‘our prin­ciples,’ ” the ad’s nar­rat­or says, quot­ing De­Maio in clips from a video of him speak­ing to a tea-party group. The ad ties De­Maio to a tea-party-af­fil­i­ated group that sup­por­ted the Oc­to­ber 2013 gov­ern­ment shut­down, and links him to a 2011 Reas­on Found­a­tion pa­per say­ing Rep. Paul Ry­an’s Medi­care vouch­er plan was too lib­er­al. “De­Maio even told the tea party, ‘I will owe “¦ you “¦ and our col­lect­ive move­ment everything,’ ” the nar­rat­or con­tin­ues.

De­Maio is one of only three openly gay Re­pub­lic­ans run­ning for Con­gress and has voiced sup­port for gay mar­riage, abor­tion rights, and en­vir­on­ment­al pro­tec­tions. But the Peters cam­paign ar­gues that he’s no mod­er­ate, based on his eco­nom­ic re­cord and gov­ern­ing style.

De­Maio said it shows he rep­res­ents a threat to the status quo.

“The Demo­crat­ic Party does not want the Re­pub­lic­an Party to change,” De­Maio said. “They’re win­ning elec­tions by paint­ing the Re­pub­lic­an Party with one broad brush as ex­trem­ists.”

The Demo­crat­ic cam­paign has poin­ted to De­Maio’s 102 lone “no” votes on city budgets and his repu­ta­tion for ab­ras­ive­ness as evid­ence that he was un­will­ing to com­prom­ise. They’ve sought to link him dir­ectly to con­ser­vat­ives, high­light­ing one case in which De­Maio com­pared him­self to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, say­ing Cruz made a ma­jor im­pact as a fresh­man sen­at­or. They’ve poin­ted to his po­s­i­tions on eco­nom­ic is­sues, like when he re­portedly vowed to “make San Diego the Wis­con­sin of the West,” re­fer­ring to the state’s pub­lic-em­ploy­ee col­lect­ive-bar­gain­ing strife. And they’ve ques­tioned how hard he’ll push back against his party on so­cial is­sues, cit­ing his lack of vo­cal op­pos­i­tion to Pro­pos­i­tion 8, Cali­for­nia’s 2008 bal­lot meas­ure out­law­ing same-sex mar­riage. Peters’s cam­paign says he has more sup­port among LGBT rights or­gan­iz­a­tions like the Hu­man Rights Cam­paign.

“San Die­gans aren’t fooled by Carl’s new faux mod­er­ate rhet­or­ic,” Peters’s cam­paign said in a state­ment. “Our TV and mail are just get­ting star­ted and we have truth on our side.”

But Peters has to be care­ful with that mes­sage, and he may have already slipped up. Last week, a video re­leased by the Re­pub­lic­an op­pos­i­tion re­search group Amer­ica Rising showed Peters talk­ing bluntly about De­Maio and oth­er Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates: “Now he’s say­ing, ‘Well, I’m a gay man. I must be mod­er­ate. And I’m pro-choice, I’m pro-en­vir­on­ment.’ And I’ve got to tell you, around the coun­try, where people don’t know him, they com­pletely buy it. Carl De­Maio has got­ten more””it’s so un­usu­al for them to see a gay man run­ning as a Re­pub­lic­an.”

In the video, Peters then men­tions San Diego County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Bon­nie Du­manis, say­ing, “Our dis­trict at­tor­ney is a les­bi­an Re­pub­lic­an. My wife says, ‘Well who does she have lunch with?’ “

He also men­tions Mia Love, who is the fa­vor­ite to win a House seat in Utah’s 4th Dis­trict, say­ing that Re­pub­lic­ans “also don’t have any Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans. They’re go­ing to get one in Mia Love in Utah. She’s just a real right-wing per­son.”

Spokes­man Alex Roth said Peters stands by his state­ments, and that San Diego is “proudly ahead of the curve when it comes to elect­ing LGBT lead­ers””but Carl De­Maio isn’t a mod­er­ate.”

But Re­pub­lic­ans said the video re­veals a hint of des­per­a­tion. Re­pub­lic­an strategist Kev­in Spillane said the com­ments were “an in­sight in­to his psyche. He’s feel­ing very vul­ner­able.”

Aside from cri­ti­ciz­ing Peters’s tone, De­Maio de­fen­ded his will­ing­ness to com­prom­ise, point­ing to when he built un­an­im­ous sup­port for a city-con­tract trans­par­ency meas­ure and a small-busi­ness reg­u­lat­ory re­lief pro­pos­al.

Des­pite those suc­cesses, De­Maio has pub­licly taken cri­ti­cism for not do­ing enough to build ma­jor­it­ies on the coun­cil. In 2012, Re­pub­lic­an May­or Jerry Sanders pushed back when De­Maio took cred­it for build­ing sup­port for a budget re­vi­sion plan.

“He prob­ably takes cred­it for my weight loss,” Sanders said in a press con­fer­ence. “He prob­ably takes cred­it for the weeds I pulled in the back­yard last week. It’s all bull­shit.”

Like­wise, former Demo­crat­ic City Coun­cil­wo­man Donna Frye called De­Maio a “grand­stand­er who has no time for people who don’t sup­port his policies com­pletely.”

De­Maio doesn’t deny that he was ag­gress­ive on the City Coun­cil. When asked what his repu­ta­tion was like on the coun­cil, he said he offered “a bold agenda to solve prob­lems.” Spillane said that while De­Maio has made en­emies, he’s also seen as someone who got things done.

“The one thing you can’t say about De­Maio is that he’s not ef­fect­ive,” Spillane said.

Cor­rec­tion: An earli­er ver­sion of this art­icle in­cor­rectly iden­ti­fied Rep. Scott Peters’s TV ad as his first of the cycle. It is his second ad.

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