The simplest explanation
California's newest Assembly member was sworn into office today in brief ceremonies in the Assembly chamber, in which Ted Lieu took his oath. Lieu pulled off a stunning rarity in a special election by winning outright in the first round of polling, collecting 60 percent of the vote on a five-candidate ballot that included four Republicans in Torrance's 53rd Assembly District. That victory, as state Democratic Party political adviser Bob Mulholland told me before the ceremony, "saved us a lot of money." Had no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff would have been held Nov. 8.
The loss has set off a round of recriminations and rationalizations among Republicans, whose statewide leaders had rallied around Manhattan Beach physician Mary Jo Ford. Her campaign was set back when it was revealed she had previously been registered to vote first as a Democrat and then later as an American Independent — disclosures that might have been marginally damaging but became a major public relations headache when she denied they were true and later had to retract her denial.
After Lieu's victory, some Republicans blamed Assembly GOP leader Kevin McCarthy for failing to thoroughly check out his candidate. Others suggested that the party realized from the outset it couldn't win, so settled on Ford because she had promised to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of her own money on the campaign, thus saving Republican resources statewide. What Republicans didn't say was that perhaps Lieu was a better candidate, or that maybe he ran a better campaign or that it was possible voters were more receptive to the issues he talked about (principally education).
Campaign strategist Gale Kaufman, who ran Lieu's campaign said the Republican response was case of deja vu, reminiscent of what she heard after they failed to gain any legislative seats last fall after having originally claimed that they expected to gain as many as five.
"Why can't they ever just say, 'Good job, Democrats'? When I lose, I lose," Kaufman said. "This was a competitive seat. All the variables in a low-turnout special election say that Republicans come out and vote on the natural in better numbers than we do. Republicans are depressed. People who always vote Republican stayed home."