GOP Turns on Itself in CA House Fight 05/27 13:38
HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (AP) -- Twenty-three years ago, Scott Baugh was a
little-known Southern California lawyer whose conservative politics and
youthful brio impressed Republican U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who steered his
new protege to a seat in the state Legislature.
Now, Baugh wants the congressman's job.
What was once a political kinship forged around the values of the Reagan
revolution has deteriorated into a nasty rivalry in a state where Republicans
can scarcely afford it.
Democrats are pursuing a string of Republican-held House seats in
California, four of them partially or entirely in Orange County. But in the
48th District, Rohrabacher also is fighting off one of his own.
In a worst-case scenario, the intraparty feud could cost the GOP a seat in a
year when the balance of power in Congress might hinge on a handful of
"It's a dangerous situation," said Republican national committeeman Shawn
Steel, who's known Rohrabacher since the 1960s and is backing his friend's bid
for a 16th trip to Capitol Hill.
The bad blood between the old allies appears to stem at least partly from
Baugh's belief that the congressman reneged on plans to retire at the end of
the current term. It also reflects a new reality in the increasingly Democratic
state: Republicans fighting over their shrinking turf.
Rohrabacher, 70, is a one-time Cold Warrior who became Russia's leading
defender on Capitol Hill. His name has come up in the investigation into
Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election; he has denied any
The guitar-strumming, surfing-loving congressman is a former speechwriter
for President Ronald Reagan. He also is widely known for his longtime support
for legalized marijuana.
He's been depicting Baugh in campaign ads as an ethically challenged
lobbyist who, if elected, would become a "perfect member of the swamp in
Washington," echoing President Donald Trump's criticism of Beltway politics.
To Baugh, his ersatz mentor has become the embodiment of all that's wrong
with Washington --- a perpetual incumbent with little to show for it.
The 55-year-old Baugh, who spent a decade leading the Orange County
Republican Party, has been stuffing mailboxes with postcard-like ads mocking
the congressman's numerous overseas trips, including multiple visits to Russia.
"They do call me 'Putin's favorite congressman,'" one jeers, the flip side
carrying a rendition of Moscow's famous domes of St. Basil's Cathedral.
Part of the uncertainty in the race comes from a crowded field in the June 5
election combined with California's so-called jungle primary system, in which
all candidates are listed on a single ballot. The top two vote-getters advance
to a November runoff, regardless of party affiliation.
Voters in the coastal district are seeing a barrage of ads backed by
millions of dollars from candidates in both major parties, as well as outside
The rift has divided Republicans in Orange County, once considered a GOP
fortress where Democrats have been making inroads. Rohrabacher's district,
which includes wealthy seaside enclaves like Newport Beach as well as inland
suburbs, is among seven in California held by Republicans but carried by
Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race, making them targets this year.
As a durable incumbent, Rohrabacher can claim an advantage --- he won the
district by nearly 17 points in 2016, though he hasn't faced a tough race in
The party establishment is behind him. House Intelligence Committee Chairman
Devin Nunes is headlining a fundraiser for him next month. And in March, House
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other prominent Republicans sent Baugh a
scalding letter, urging him to step away.
"Limited resources and volunteer energy must be directed toward defeating
Democrats," they wrote, calling his campaign "destructive to the Republican
Party of Orange County which you helped build."
Baugh remains undeterred.
"The longer you stay in Washington, the less likely you'll get anything
done," he said in an interview.
Rohrabacher's campaign did not respond to a request for an interview.
The congressman faced controversy last week after telling a group of real
estate agents in Washington that homeowners should be able to refuse to sell
their property to gays and lesbians. The Orange County Register reported that
the remarks prompted the National Association of Realtors to withdraw its
recommendation that members send campaign contributions to Rohrabacher, and
that the congressman denied he's trying to shore up his conservative flank to
fend off Baugh.
Democrats have their own problems: too many candidates, which could water
down the party's chances.
Several Democrats are among the top spenders in the race, including
businessman Harley Rouda, who's backed by the party's campaign arm in the
House, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But Neuroscientist Hans
Keirstead snagged the endorsement from the state Democratic Party.
Ironically, there's also the possibility that Baugh's candidacy turns out to
be a blessing for Republicans.
With 16 names on the ballot in a district with a Republican pedigree and a
double-digit registration advantage for the GOP, it's mathematically possible
that two Republicans advance to the runoff, shutting out the Democrats in
Congressional Democrats eager to keep Baugh out of the runoff have been
running ads that recall his 1999 agreement to pay a $47,900 penalty for
campaign-finance violations during his first race for the Assembly in 1995.
It's all been wearying for Huntington Beach retiree Sharon Cress, a
registered Republican, who sees a campaign focused on insults, not issues.
The ads from the two Republicans "are all mudslinging," said Cress, who
worked in real estate. "It's just awful. I probably won't vote for either one