In California, Democrats Square Off in Fierce 2022 Warfare

LOS ANGELES – Mailers and online ads vividly portray David Kim as a right-wing extremist, accusing him of running for a California House seat “with the support of QAnon-MAGA” from “QAnon Republicans.”

But Mr. Kim is not a Republican. He is a progressive Democrat who supports “Medicare for all” and the Green New Deal. And the attacks come from a progressive Democrat, Rep. Jimmy Gomez, who is fighting to keep his seat in Congress.

The spat in what is usually a quiet race for a decidedly safe Democratic seat illustrates how liberal California, of all places, has become home to some of the most vicious political bullshit this year — and not across party lines.

Unlike the vast majority of the country, where voters think about the gaping ideological divide between Republicans and Democrats in their midterm elections, California has an open two-at-large primary system, meaning two Democrats can — and often do — run against each other. in the general election. And in many cases, these candidates are strikingly similar in politics, forcing them to reach deep to differentiate themselves.

It’s been pretty ugly lately.

Democrats are running against Democrats in six House, 18 state and dozens of municipal and local elections in California in November. In many contests, candidates have resorted to extreme and divisive language in a reflection of the growing polarization of American politics.

That’s especially the case in azure-blue Los Angeles, where nearly every elected office is held by a Democrat, only a single Republican has been mayor in the past half-century, and an explosive racism scandal involving three City Council members has collapsed. the city’s political world into chaos just weeks before the election.

Race to become the next city controller, usually a dull contest with little, if any, pyrotechnics. But this year, Paul Koretz, a progressive city councilman with more than three decades in public office, called his opponent Kenneth Mejia “dangerous” and said he was an anti-Semite and an “anarchist” little different from the rioters who invaded Capitol 6. January 2021.

“He’s the most phony Democrat you can find,” Mr. Koretz said in an interview with Mr. Mejia, a relative political newcomer and former member of the Green Party who supports cuts to police funding and supports a national tenant’s bill of rights.

Mr. Mejia’s campaign manager, Jane Nguyen, called Mr. Koretz’s allegations “ridiculous bullshit” and said he was “out of touch.” Since the leak this month of a recording of city council members in a discussion that included offensive comments, she and other allies of Mr. Mejia have sought to paint Mr. Koretz as a racist, which he denies.

Some Democrats worry that the toxic environment is bad for party unity.

“There are wild accusations back and forth about whether one candidate is a closet conservative and one is a closet Marxist,” said Garry South, a longtime Democratic strategist. “I just don’t think these fights between Democrats should turn into derbies about who can accuse the other person of being the most extreme.” This is not a healthy debate.’

Mr. South and other consultants pointed to several other races where hostility was in full swing, including a race for a city council seat on Los Angeles’ affluent Westside. One candidate, a centrist Democrat with a practice in labor law, tried to link her progressive opponent, a criminal defense attorney, to pedophiles and rapists. That lawyer again called her a racist.

In the race for a state Senate district that includes parts of Downtown and South Los Angeles, two Democrats with nearly identical policy positions have accused each other of being pro-business and anti-renters.

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“It’s a race to the bottom,” Mr South said.

For more established candidates, negative news can come from a place of desperation: Even before town halls were engulfed in controversy in early October, anti-incumbent sentiment seemed to settle in Los Angeles.

In the June 7 primary, two incumbent city council members lost decisively to inexperienced challengers, one by enough to rule out a runoff.

In their primary election, Mr. Mejia beat Mr. Koretz by nearly 20 percentage points, though he fell short of the 50 percent threshold that would rule out a runoff. After that, Mr. Mejia received several key endorsements, including from The Los Angeles Times and Councilman Mike Boninwhose son was the subject of some racist comments at the heart of the unfolding scandal.

By contrast, Mr. Koretz was supported by all three city council members caught on the now-infamous tape. After the scandal broke, his campaign website was scrubbed of mentions of his support, with cached versions of the site appearing.

Mr. Gomez and Mr. Kim have a history of fighting for Congress.

In 2020, Mr. Gomez, who has served in the House since 2017, also faced immigration lawyer Mr. Kim. That’s when Mr. Gomez won the primary by nearly 30 points and advanced to the general election without paying much, if any, attention to his rival. “He never even mentioned my name,” Mr. Kim said over a breakfast burrito at the restaurant this month.

But Mr Gomez ended up winning the 2020 general election by a surprisingly narrow margin of six points. In April 2021, he asked the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to put money into the race for what has traditionally been a safe seat for the party, telling donors he was “in a very tough race,” HuffPost reported.

This August, Mr. Gomez’s campaign unveiled a website titled “Who is the Real David Kim?” that accuses him of not supporting democracy and hiding “QAnon MAGA support”; the basic lie of QAnon is that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles is trying to control politics and the news media. In October, Mr. Gomez sent out three mailers that juxtaposed photos of Mr. Kim with an image of the Jan. 6 rioters scaling the walls of the Capitol and paid for Internet ads featuring images of his rival and former president, Donald J. Trump.

The link to QAnon, explained Steven Barkan, a consultant to Mr. Gomez’s campaign, stems from the fact that in 2020 Mr. Kim sought and received endorsements from defeated candidates in the primaries. One of them, Joanne Wright, a Republican, appeared to embrace conspiracy theories and had a picture of “Q” on her Twitter page before being kicked off the platform. Mr. Barkan said Ms. Wright’s views were revealed before the primary and argued that Mr. Kim either knew or should have known who he was dealing with. (Ms. Wright did not respond to requests for comment.)

“It’s fair to say we don’t think QAnon is,” Mr. Barkan conceded. “But he ran with QAnon’s support. It’s serious when people like Kim give QAnon credibility.”

Some of the Gomez campaign’s attacks also focused on the fact that Mr. Kim was once a registered Republican; Mr. Kim says he was raised in a Republican family but changed his registration long ago.

Mr. Kim called the ad campaign a dirty tactic and said the endorsements, which included one from the Democrat he defeated, showed he was a “unifying candidate and leader” willing to work with people who hold different views. He also pointed out that the endorsement happened in the 2020 race but was misleadingly presented as if it happened in the current campaign.

“People like Jimmy continue to contribute to the extreme polarization of our country and government,” Mr Kim said.

Bill Przylucki, executive director of Ground Game LA, a nonprofit group that promotes progressive politics and candidates, frowned at reports linking left-wing candidates to extremists as more than 370 Republican candidates for powerful offices across the country questioned the legitimacy of the presidential election in in 2020.

“Given the national picture, I think it’s a bad strategy for the Democrats overall,” Mr. Przylucki said, likening the approach to “red baiting.”

Some political observers note that it’s been barely a decade since California switched to an open primary system, and say some adjustment is needed. But Mr. Przylucki argued that the animosity emerging in the current system required a complete rethinking of the Democrats’ traditional anti-Republic policy.

“Democrats are trying to figure out what it means to be a party in a place like Los Angeles,” he said. “Or if it even makes sense.


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