Mike Levin met Barack Obama backstage Saturday at the Anaheim Convention Center before the former president spoke in rolled-up sleeves to a fired-up crowd.
Did he know who Levin was?
“He knew about all of us,” Levin said afterward of the six candidates present. “He had read his briefing. Wasn’t it nice when we had a president that actually read their briefing?”
Obama, glancing down at notes, name-checked seven Southern California Democrats in competitive races — including no-show Katie Hill of the 25th District. (Not mentioned: 50th District candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar, also in the audience.)
Thank you @BarackObama for inviting me to today’s rally and for your words of encouragement. Great catching up with my former boss.
His message to me: “Win this thing — for civility. For all of us.”
— Ammar Campa (@ACampaNajjar) September 8, 2018
When he came to “Mike” — the sixth candidate on his list — Obama cited Levin’s environmental attorney background, saying he “spent his career trying to protect this planet for our kids and make sure they are able to enjoy the incredible bounty that is this beautiful state of California.”
In a 48-second testimonial, Obama called Levin a leader on environmental issues, climate change and “a fighter to make sure everyone’s getting higher wages” who would deal with gun violence and “protect health care.”
Levin, 39, called Obama’s campaign trip to Orange County “historic.” (Obama recalled visiting Disneyland at age 11 with his grandmother as well as during his college teen years, when he was ejected for smoking at the Magic Kingdom).
“As I saw President Obama up there today, I was reminded of what that looks like when we’ve got a president who treats people respectfully, who is honest, and who operates with integrity,” Levin said. “And I think voters in this country, in the 49th … know the difference.”
Levin took turns with various media outlets, repeating an anecdote that could turn up in stump speeches.
“We tell our kids… Don’t bully people. Respect people. Don’t lie. And for my [son], who’s now started first grade, he has homework, so we say: Be prepared. Do your homework, and study to the extent a first-grader studies.”
He said that if he and his wife, Chrissy, could expect that out of their 6-year-old and 4-year-old, “we ought to be able to expect it out of our leaders in Washington.”
The San Juan Capistrano resident (he said it took 40 minutes to get to Anaheim) wouldn’t quantify the value of an Obama bump in his coastal district that straddles Orange and San Diego counties.
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But he said his internal polling found that among independents — which he labeled a “key” voter slice — Obama was viewed favorably by two-thirds.
Democrats in the bruising 49th District battle won a combined 51 percent of the June primary vote, Levin noted, including a “good chunk” of those not affiliated with a party.
“President Obama is very popular with those no party preference and independent voters,” Levin said in an interview after the 2-hour rally (and 23-minute Obama remarks).
Even if independents don’t agree with Obama on every issue, Levin said, “they know that what we’re seeing from the administration currently is a type of toxic and divisive politics that are unprecedented, that we need to overcome. Ultimately, Congress needs to do its job.”
Levin declined to predict a victory margin.
“What I will say is that we’re going to run as though we’re behind every step of the way,” he said. “I’m absolutely a believer that we don’t count our chickens.
“All I’ll predict is that we’re going to outwork the other side,” not uttering the name of Republican Diane Harkey, endorsed by retiring GOP Rep. Darrell Issa and winner of the June primary by 8 percentage points.
How will Levin campaign in the final two months?
TV ads? Direct-mail fliers? Voter visits? Social media?
“Yes to everything,” he said. “It’s just a matter of waking up every morning and knowing that I want to move that needle a little bit closer to the finish line and ultimately run through that tape as fast as I possibly can in two months.”
He said he would do a “ton of house parties,” knock on “tons of doors” and make thousands of phone calls, “and (leave) no stone unturned. So we’re going to have plenty of mail, digital advertising, and television.”
He called field work and digital marketing the foundation of a successful modern campaign.
Levin aims to connect with voters online — “either through social media or digital advertising, or send them a piece of mail. We’re going to do all of the above.”
Also raise money to pay for Obama rallies in Anaheim.
The sponsoring Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee won’t bear the costs of convention rental and security including 20 Anaheim police officers. (Expenses will be split between the seven congressional campaigns.)
“I haven’t seen a bill yet,” Levin said with a laugh. “We’ll find out. It had to cost a few dollars.”