Carl DeMaio at San Diego’s Golden Hall in November 2018. Photo by Chris Stone

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee isn’t a fan of indicted Republican Rep. Duncan D. Hunter. But the well-funded arm of the House Democrats is attacking Hunter’s biggest GOP challenger — Carl DeMaio.

On the same day that the longtime KOGO radio host released results of a poll he commissioned, the so-called D-triple-C labeled DeMaio a hypocrite for pledging to “shine a light on corruption and inefficiency in government.”

“In his limited time serving on the San Diego City Council, DeMaio was a whirlwind of scandal and corruption, from being fined by the San Diego Ethics Commission for improperly soliciting donations from city employees, to funneling over $15,000 in campaign funds to a loved one, to multiple cases of full-fledged plagiarism,” said a DCCC statement obtained by Times of San Diego.

Summary of poll commissioned by Carl DeMaio in 50th Congressional District. (PDF)

Washington-based Andy Orellana, the group’s West Coast press secretary, said Thursday: “What we already know about Carl DeMaio makes you wonder what we are still yet to find out. But while DeMaio is lacking in self-awareness, he’s flush with chutzpah. To run a campaign against corruption with a record like his, well it takes [a] special kind of courage.”

Dave McCulloch, spokesman for the DeMaio campaign, responded to the DCCC slam.

“The Democrats’ attacks are completely, provably false and slanderous, and we’re very disappointed that Times of San Diego refused to do its due diligence before publishing this so-called story because lies in a ‘he said, he said’ story still do damage,” McCulloch said via email.

The DCCC statement brought up three incidents, all dating back years:

In 2008, DeMaio agreed to pay a $1,500 city Ethics Commission fine for indirectly soliciting campaign contributions from city employees in violation of the Municipal Code as a City Council candidate. (DeMaio, in any case, received no money from city employees.)

In 2010, DeMaio paid Hale Media Inc., owned by his boyfriend Johnathan Hale, $16,000 for signature gathering but didn’t list it in campaign disclosures. (A spokeswoman for DeMaio’s Reforming City Hall campaign at the time defended Hale Media’s role as a payroll service.)

Taxpayers advocate Richard Rider didn’t see a problem with the $16,000 payment, remarking in San Diego Rostra: “The inference is that Hale pocketed the $16K, but that’s not what the facts indicate at this point.” Rider said most or all of the money went to petitioners. He didn’t deal with the disclosure issue.

And in 2012, a long profile of DeMaio suggested that he plagiarized the website of a rival Washington consultant.

“In 2003, Christopher Wye was planning a major conference on government performance for a center he ran as part of the federally chartered National Academy of Public Administration,” said Voice of San Diego in the profile. “Wye said he woke up one morning to find (DeMaio’s) Performance Institute had decided to plan its own competing conference and had replicated Wye’s entire website down to its color scheme.”

Voice reported that DeMaio denied copying the website and called the anecdote “sour grapes from a competitor.”

The DCCC statement also noted a Voice of San Diego report that DeMaio declined to take a 6% city pay cut in 2009 at the same time other council members were. But The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that DeMaio reduced his own compensation by 30% by rejecting the car allowance and the city’s pension.

Veteran San Diego political observer Carl Luna saw the DCCC statement as a sign Democrats see DeMaio as a more difficult challenge than running against a wounded Hunter or one of the lesser known Republicans in the race.

“It’s also a reminder to donors to open up their checkbooks and help Ammar Campa-Najjar if they want to try and turn the seat,” said Luna, a San Diego Mesa College political science professor.

“Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but being slammed by the Democrats’ national congressional campaign committee even before he’s made made it on the ballot has to come a close second,” Luna said.

He said such releases this early in the cycle aren’t completely unusual, noting the DCCC website is attacking Republicans around the country.

“It’s when the money for TV ads starts raining down that you really have to pay attention,” Luna said.

Thursday morning, DeMaio shared a summary of a 50th Congressional District poll conducted by The Tarrance Group, a Republican strategy firm based in Alexandria, Virginia.

Its June 24-26 poll of 302 “likely” registered primary voters — with a 5.8% margin of error because of its small sample — indicated that Democrat Campa-Najjar would win the March 2020 primary in scenarios with or without Hunter — but that DeMaio would be the No. 2 choice and make a November runoff.

“DeMaio has the strongest image ratings of all of the potential Republican candidates — both among the primary electorate as a whole as well as among Republican primary voters,” said a memo from Tarrance Group pollster Dave Sackett.

Even though Hunter, former 49th District Rep. Darrell Issa and DeMaio have high name recognition in the East County district, “only Carl DeMaio has an overwhelmingly net positive rating,” Sackett said.

“Among Republican primary voters, DeMaio maintains a 74% favorable rating — the best of all three candidates. Trump voters, as well as both social and fiscal conservatives, view him favorably and view him to be conservative.”

Sackett also said DeMaio has much better “image ratings” among those who decline to state a party and Independent voters than either Hunter or Issa, who is reportedly interested in the race but hadn’t entered it.

“Duncan Hunter’s unfavorable rating among DTS and Independent voters is up at 66%, and Darrell Issa’s negatives among DTS voters are as high as his favorable ratings,” Sackett said.

The Tarrance Group didn’t respond to a request for poll details, including what positive and negative statements were read to respondents to “simulate messaging during a campaign.”

Six other Republicans — including former state lawmaker Joel Anderson and current state Sen. Brian Jones, who haven’t joined the race — were lumped together as “lesser candidates.” Other active GOP candidates are Bill Wells, Sam Abed, Matt Rahn and Larry Wilske.

“In those tests, none of these candidates received more than single-digit support,” Sackett said.

Hunter spokesman Michael Harrison dismissed The Tarrance Group poll (which has a “B” pollster grade from fivethirtyeight.com, and an 83% accuracy rate).

“Polling companies make their money issuing push polls that provide any result you desire,” Harrison said. “DeMaio’s fantasy polling against Bob Filner and against Scott Peters didn’t make victory a reality.”

Harrison said DeMaio was going to learn that a district that went for Trump by 15 percentage points is going to be difficult to win “for someone who isn’t from and doesn’t live in East County, who has criticized President Trump and who has already failed twice to earn the support of voters in previous races for mayor and for Congress.”

The DCCC statement comes three days after DeMaio announced his candidacy. That same day, Monday, brought an immediate rejoinder from the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association of San Diego County, which launched a website named AnybodyButCarl.com.

“Our decision is based on [DeMaio’s] long history opposing law enforcement, including voting twice to eliminate death benefits for the families of officers slain in the line of duty,” said David Leonhardi, the group’s president.

“And before you try to dismiss our opposition as partisan,” he wrote, addressing DeMaio, “note that DSA endorsed Republicans in nearly every circumstance, including for federal office, and we were the largest donor to the local Republican Party in the last cycle (by a ratio of 2.5 to one!).”

The Hunter campaign had less to say about the DCCC statement.

“I have never found any benefit in attempting to understand the rationale of the DCCC,” spokesman Harrison said.

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