By Ken Stone
Tim Van Damm of Rancho Peñasquitos calls himself a “regular guy,” but his goal is extraordinary — electing Rancho Santa Fe businessman John Cox as California’s next governor.
His strategy: Attacking Democratic candidate Antonio Villaraigosa via 30-second commercials airing in several Central Valley markets.
Van Damm, who works in real estate and home-building, says he met Republican Cox through the men’s group at Church of the Nativity in Rancho Santa Fe.
“He is a parishioner there,” said the 40-year-old Catholic from New York and Boston. “I see him usually every week there at the 10:30 Mass. He was a member of the men’s group for a number of years. Got to know him over the years.”
Now Van Damm chairs Restore Our Values, his first foray into politics.“I saw [Cox] needed help,” he said Thursday in a phone interview. “So I kind of looked around. Nobody else was jumping in, and I’m not some political operative. I’m kind of a local guy that’s just trying to help.”
So he jumped “head first into the wonderful world of politics.”
The Super PAC lacks supercash, however, with only $12,500 in the bank as of May 24 — and $156,000 in spending this year. (Van Damm says he got a “pretty substantial check” Wednesday, which goes straight into media buys.)
“We’re up on Fox News in Sacramento/Stockton, Fresno, Chico/Redding and Bakersfield,” he said.
Van Damm accepts the conventional wisdom that Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is a lock to win Tuesday’s primary. So his Encinitas-based group (where his treasurer lives) is targeting the former Los Angeles mayor to help Cox make the two-person runoff in November.
A bonus: If Cox survives the “jungle primary,” GOP voters will have more reason to turn out in the fall (and down-ballot Republicans will breathe a huge sigh of relief).
“The reason we’re targeting the Central Valley is that’s kind of a critical battleground area where Antonio has put a lot of time and effort into,” he said. “So we want to be able to counter that and help Cox in the effort.”
The ad was written by Van Damm and political consultant Frank Schubert, best known for masterminding the 2008 pro-Prop. 8 measure against same-sex marriage. (An East Coast outfit did the final ad production, he says.)
The spot, titled “His Legacy,” rakes Villaraigosa for failing to revitalize Los Angeles and turn it into “the great global city of our century.”
“Instead,” Van Damm said in a statement, “his legacy is a city filled with homeless encampments, with tens of thousands of people living on the streets. In many sections of the city, the streets are utterly filthy, sidewalks and alleyways crowded with the homeless living in tents and under tarps, garbage strewn everywhere, and human waste on the streets. Californians deserve better than a chief executive with such a failed record of leadership.”
Why Fox News instead of more general-interest stations — the ones more Latinos might watch?
“Fox News is where a lot of the base is,” Van Damm said. “We’d like to expand beyond that…. We’re leaning heavily on our San Diego connections (for donations).”
He said the group would love to be on “ABC, NBC, all the regular stations. But if we have to pick one horse, that’s where we start.”
What about GOP rival Travis Allen, the Chula Vista native who now serves Orange County in the state Assembly?
“We don’t see him as a threat right now,” Van Damm said. “He’s kind of fallen behind. … Right now it’s a footrace between Cox and Villaraigosa.”With more California voters registered as independents than Republicans, Cox hopes to make inroads with folks “sick and tired of politics as usual,” Van Damm said, pointing to a “kind of wave across the country” picking Republican business people in Democratic states.
Based on recent polls showing Cox pulling into second — and endorsements from President Trump, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and former Speaker Newt Gingrich — Cox is having people “starting to say: Wow, this may be possible.”
“The enthusiasm is starting to build more than it had been on the Republican side,” Van Damm said. “Newsom’s policies are so far left of what even Jerry Brown has done, I feel like there’s a breaking point. … And people are not going to go along. …You’re seeing that in the shift of how many people are going independent. There’s frustration on both sides.”
Van Damm — whose first Cox commercial noted the womanizing of Newsom and Villaraigosa — embraces Trump despite his own Catholic values and upbringing.
“Do I approve of everything that Trump has done in his personal life? No, I don’t,” he said. “Do I think that a lot of the policies, stands he has taken [are] for the betterment of our country? Yes, I do.”
The Catholic Church is “basically a hospital for sinners. It’s not a museum for saints,” he said.
“So every single one of us is fallen. Every single one of us has done bad things that we’re not proud of. But that’s the beauty of the Christian tradition, which is: Admit to it, say you’re sorry, change your actions, change your life and move on.”
Van Damm hopes Cox moves onto the November ballot.
“We’re not taking anything for granted,” he said — not thinking “looks like he’s got it, let’s set back and coast.”
He vows that “now’s the time to put the pedal to the metal with the limited resources that we do have. And hit with all that we got.”
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