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Op-Ed: The Left Dumped Millions, The Right Was Busy Infighting, Californians Lost

Inside the Elder campaign, which had less than two months to ramp up, the biggest mistake was structural.  File photo:, licensed.

LOS ANGELES, CA  – I wanted to be measured before making conclusions about the California recall election results but alas, so many have instantly weighed in with hyperbolic conclusions so I hope to give a few insights that may temper some of the more extreme conclusions being made about the election result.

No, this was not and will not end up a bigger victory than Biden’s 29 point win in 2020, which was actually worse than how Hillary did in 2016, with a 30 point advantage. Meanwhile, Gavin won by 24 points in 2018. When it’s all said and done, it will probably land under 20 points.

It is clear there were defectors from the usual Democrat coalition, which I saw on the ground. As Republicans waited until Election Day to vote in person or turn in their ballots, the late returns have skewed heavily right and the margin will keep contracting. The final margin will probably land at about 15 to 17 points, in line with the RealClearPolitics average.

The Democrats also spent tens of millions of dollars, way more than Republicans who raised purely from grassroots and many conservative donors still sat this one out, despite the rosy polling numbers in August, predicting accurately that this would not be a 2003 repeat.

Yet, there’s plenty of blame to go around that should be directed to Republicans. I have been needing to switch my registration back to Independent and it was seeing the ridiculous behavior on the right that reminded me to do so and I finally went back to “No Party Preference”, because in reality, I prefer neither party. Neither represents me.

Given a golden opportunity and a short window to do so, Republicans instead wasted their time with infighting and unproductive behaviors, and ignoring the community and ground volunteers as a result. Elitism is still alive and strong in the California GOP. It reminds me of someone broke trying to act rich.

The Recall Newsom folk can be commended for qualifying the recall in the first place, even uniting with groups they normally wouldn’t have, to gather the 2.2 million signatures, way over the threshold, taking nothing for granted.

This behavior, however, did not continue after the election qualified and instead, leadership split up and remaining leadership decided to go all in for one specific candidate, Kevin Kiley, who announced shortly before eventual frontrunner, Larry Elder. Instead of pivoting their strategy, they went all in for Kiley, wasted their time attacking Larry Elder, and created unnecessary division instead of outreaching to the Independents and Democrats that helped the recall qualify in the first place. Ultimately, Kiley would end up with about three percent of the vote.

Inside the Elder campaign, which had less than two months to ramp up, the biggest mistake was structural.  Announcing so late prevented him from garnering the best talent, which were scooped up by other gubernatorial campaigns.  Instead, a series of campaign management teams came in and couldn’t get everyone to work together or to actually engage in something productive.

The final campaign manager got Larry some major national publicity for himself with his questionable billings to the Orange County Transportation Corridor Agencies. He successfully stayed in the campaign because lip service proved enough.  Not exactly helpful, as Newsom painted this as a Republican recall and he was shining the light on what I’ve sounded the alarm before: Republican consultants and their lack of results.

Even the fundraiser refused to work well with others. Given many opportunities to collaborate with other fundraisers such as one in the Bay Area, that fundraiser decided to make it a point to control all the fundraising, threatening to call off fundraisers if her competitors would get any benefit and steering the lion’s share of fundraising in SoCal, missing valuable opportunities to lay down seeds in the North. There was a law of diminishing returns every time an extra day was spent in SoCal at the expense of exposure in the vote-rich Bay Area and pockets of the Central Valley. Larry, a great candidate, could have raised much more, if overall results were the primary goal.

But that may have been moot anyhow because all the money in the world would not have sold an amplified message that was toxic to the broader electorate. On the communications side, there were so many lost opportunities from playing defense instead of offense, such as not issuing a press release to show graciousness to Doug Ose, who had dropped out of the race after a heart attack and who had a small following of his own. Most importantly it would have shown unity among the different fiefdoms on the right.

Republican campaigns notoriously lack transparency, choosing to be clandestine and then waiting last minute to inform people about events, and then wondering why turnout is light. This is rooted in fear and fear is never a winner. Be bold, be proud and have trust and a contingency plan for the scenario when infiltrators come in.

Getting work done on a tactical level was severely impeded by older Republicans who would not engage in technology and simultaneously would not leverage younger people to make this happen. Well meaning volunteers were frustrated with the lack of being used by the campaign. In the end, no one was communicated to because some wouldn’t step aside to make a result happen, indicative of what Republicans do. Or simply admitting they didn’t know how to use Excel.  I respect the older generation but they notoriously have not kept up with technology or social media, much less Microsoft Office. Ego before results.

Smart strategy informed by the community was another thing lacking. I was willing to offer free advice to the campaign but they were closed and knew better. Nurturing Kevin Paffrath, the Democratic frontrunner who was shunned by his own party and barred from a No on Recall rally would have been helpful to the cause. With his ability to harness technology and YouTube, he was uniquely positioned to help the “yes” question over the hump, especially with some initial coverage. In fact, the only poll where “yes” led, 51-40 by SurveyUSA was when he was the frontrunner. Just a little boost in supporting him would have given life to the recall and busted the narrative that this was a Republican recall.

Republicans proved they did not deserve the keys to the castle. In the end, Californians lost with terrible policies like the end of single family home zoning instituted the day after Gavin was declared winner. For that, both parties are to blame.

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