Congressional candidate Jose Caballero makes his pitch for support. Rep. Susan Davis, his Democratic rival, wasn't present.
Congressional candidate Jose Caballero makes his pitch for support at mid-August Democratic Party Central Committee meeting. Rep. Susan Davis wasn’t present. Photo by Ken Stone

A 33-year-old San Diego State graduate and “proud democratic socialist” says he’s the favorite to succeed retiring Rep. Susan Davis in Congress.

Fellow Democrat Jose Caballero is a longtime Bernie Sanders backer (and 2016 DNC delegate) who embraces the Vermont senator’s Medicare-for-all plans.

He told Times of San Diego: “We’re thankful for Susan Davis’ 20 years of service, and we’re clearly now the front-runners because of our focus on the issues — like Medicare-for-all, veteran issues, Heroes’ Promise and climate crisis.”

Confident in his party’s voter 2-to-1 registration advantage, he said “bring ’em on” to any big-name Republican rival, such as Darrell Issa, the one-time 49th District mainstay exploring a run against Rep. Duncan Hunter in the 50th District.

Caballero said he thought Davis bowed out over health care.

“I think it’s Medicare-for-all — she never signed onto it,” he said in a phone interview. “Never involved in the Medicare for All Caucus (in Congress). She didn’t bend under nurses [union] pressure. She knew the writing on the wall — ‘maybe it’s time for me to move on because times have changed.’”

He also says he managed to block her from getting Democratic club endorsements when they went head-to-head. (He’s already claimed the backing of the San Diego Progressive Democratic Club, which he helped found and once led as president.)

The Talmadge resident (moving to University Heights soon) said he’s the front-runner because he’s lived in the district over a decade and “built a large following of supporters across the district and country. People are hungry for a candidate like myself.”

He dismissed the prospect of mayoral candidate Todd Gloria, the Assembly majority whip, switching gears.

“I think Todd Gloria knows that he wants to serve the city,” Caballero said. “His campaign has already moved in that direction. I respect Todd Gloria and I know that he’s going to do well by the local residents of San Diego.

“If he wanted Congress, he probably would have ran already. I wish him luck in the mayoral race.”

In March, when he announced his race, Caballero criticized Davis for not taking bold action in a reliably blue district.

He called himself “a proud democratic socialist,” which he proffers as an ideology, not a party (citing fire and police departments, freeways, Social Security and Medicare as examples).

“We already have democratic socialism here in this country,” Caballero said. “We just need to start bringing more of the pillars into it, so we can continue to function as a government, because right now at this rate we’re suffering.”

Part Puerto Rican, Mexican and Spanish, Caballero is a former Navy nuclear engineer who grew up Republican in Texas but says he discovered his true values while studying at San Diego Mesa College.

In February 2016, when he was running for the District 7 seat on the San Diego City Council, he told San Diego CityBeat that in a class assignment he was startled to hear facts other than those he’d seen on Fox News.

That June, he won 17.3% of the vote — taking third behind council incumbent Scott Sherman (60.2%) and Democrat Justin DeCesare (22.5%)

In the first six months of 2019, Caballero reported raising $8,400 — compared with nearly $94,000 by Davis.

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