Politico California - Carla Marinucci
With the luxurious Trump National Golf Club in Rancho Palos Verdes as his backdrop, Democratic state Assembly candidate Al Muratsuchi found the perfect setting Wednesday for a campaign rally to needle his Republican opponent, incumbent David Hadley.
“We’re not going to stay on the sidelines and let that man become the next president of the United States,’’ Muratsuchi said during an event that referenced Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump dozens of times.
Muratsuchi, a candidate for the Southern California’s 66th Assembly District — which includes the Trump property — told the crowd he has called repeatedly on Hadley to denounce Trump, but to no avail.
Hadley recently said he was not voting for either Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton in November, but Muratsuchi, a former prosecutor, said that's not good enough in this unusal election year.
“Take a stand!’’ he yelled as supporters, some of them carrying “Trump-Hadley” signs, cheered.
The competitive race in a district that includes Torrance, Manhattan Beach and parts of Los Angeles — where voters preferred Republican Meg Whitman over Democrat Jerry Brown in the 2010 gubernatorial race — underscores what many Republicans are calling the “Trump Effect” in critical down ballot races.
In a solidly blue state where the GOP faces a 15 percentage point deficit in voter registration and holds no statewide offices, experts say Trump’s campaign has handed Democrats yet another battering ram against California’s politically challenged Republicans.
Hadley, a first term Republican, captured the seat from Muratsuchi in 2014 by just 500 votes. In a year when Trump has become persona non grata with some prominent Republicans, including many moderate Republican women voters, Muratsuchi defeated Hadley by 4 percentage points in the June primary.
That’s in part due to a campaign strategy that has included saavy social media efforts like a website — HadleyTrump.com — which aims to tie the GOP assemblyman to the hip with their party’s controversial standard-bearer, Muratsuchi’s strategist Mike Shimpock said.
“We have been following [Hadley] around for weeks, asking, 'Why won’t you repudiate Trump?'" Shimpock told POLITICO. “He just smiles and walks by.”
Hadley’s campaign spokesman, Dylan Gray, said the Republican in an op-ed published in the local Daily Breeze “has made clear he won’t be endorsing, he won’t be supporting Trump.” But, he said, the Muratsuchi campaign “has kind of doubled and tripled down on the strategy.’’
During Wednesday's campaign rally, Muratsuchi said Hadley has failed to confront Trump’s more controversial statements, such as referring to Mexican immigrants as “rapists,” or his positions, like a call for a ban or limits on Muslim immigration.
Some of Muratsuchi's backers, like Julie Shankle, the former president of the Torrance Teachers Association, argue Trump's incendiary statements demand a robust rejection from Hadley.
“I teach a large percentage of Latino students ... and they were really upset by what they’re seeing in the media’’ about Trump’s call to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, she said. “It strikes fear in the heart of my students.”
Gray acknowledged that, in the 66th Assembly District, Trump’s June showing was lackluster: he came in third behind Clinton and Democrat Bernie Sanders. Polls show that in the district, “if the election were held today, he’d come in 13 or 14 points behind Hillary Clinton,’’ Gray said, adding that though Trump has a core of local supporters, generally “he’s not popular here with Republicans."
But Gray said Trump is not the chief concern of most voters in the district. Preservation of Prop. 13, the landmark 1978 property tax reduction, is “our top issue,’’ especially for older voters.
The Hadley campaign warns that if Democrats succeed in getting a supermajority in the Assembly, “they can modify it,’’ Gray said. “It’s an important issue, but it’s not as exciting as talking about Donald Trump.”
Shimpock said the race will come down to basics. And that is: “Why won’t David Hadley denounce Donald Trump?,’’ he said. “Which is a fairly simple question for a guy who says he 'looks you in the eye and tells it like it is.'"