Fairly or unfairly, based on the sophistication of their campaigns, amounts in their respective war chests and citations each has received from respected national election handicappers, Harley Rouda and Dr. Hans Keirstead are the current frontrunners among the eight Democrats seeking the 48th Congressional District seat held by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach).
That probably explains why wealthy businessmen Rouda and Keirstead are going at one another these days with as much vigor as they are at the 30-year incumbent each hopes to replace.
The most recent clash between the two began on Saturday, when the California Democratic Party held a Region 18 Pre-Endorsement Conference for CA-48 at the San Juan Capistrano Community Center. Delegates there voted to recommend an endorsement for Keirstead “with an astounding 67 percent of the vote,” reported the Hans Keirstead for Congress campaign in a press release issued that same day titled, “Dr. Hans Keirstead Wins Endorsement Recommendation From California Democratic Party In Landslide Vote.”
“I’m thrilled to have received the endorsement recommendation from the California Democratic Party,” Keirstead is quoted as saying in the release. “We are all standing up to Trump and Rohrabacher’s terrible policies and when Democrats stand together, Democrats win. Thanks to the delegates, our supporters, and to my fellow candidates for their hard work and for fighting for Democratic values.”
He added, “There are still two major elections over the next 10 months; I’m dedicated to working tirelessly each day to bring Orange County the representation in Congress it deserves.”
But the following day, Rouda’s campaign issued a statement of its own, taking Keirstead to task “for falsely claiming to have earned the California Democratic Party’s endorsement recommendation.”
Actually, Keirstead failed to reach the vote threshold needed for that recommendation, according to the Rouda campaign.
“This is another pathetic attempt by Mr. Keirstead’s campaign to distort the truth,” Michael McLaughlin, Rouda’s campaign manager, says in the release. “Even on their best days they can’t help but join Donald Trump and mislead Orange County voters. The CDP [California Democratic Party] has made no recommendation and will make no decision until the state party convention next month.”
McLaughlin claimed this fits a pattern when it comes to Keirstead’s truthiness.
“From lying about committee assignments, his PhD, the nature of his investments and endorsements from the CDP and United Way, Mr. Keirstead can’t tell the truth,” says McLaughlin.
The committee assignment bit comes from a recent incident the Weekly reported on: “Hans Keirstead Slips Up in Race to Unseat Rep. Dana Rohrabacher.”
It does not say so in the release, but the other alleged departures from the truth McLaughlin is referring to come from opposition research. It supposedly shows Keirstead: falsely claimed to hold a PhD in Neurobiology or Neuroscience when his doctorate is actually in Zoology; underreported assets and property holdings on financial disclosure reports; and falsely claimed to have sold his company for more than $100 million when, in actuality, $90 million of the purchase was based on milestone payments that would only come through if the company met certain milestones that it never met. (The alleged United Way endorsement is a new one on me.)
McLaughlin ends by propping up his boss—and taking one more shot at Keirstead: “Harley will continue to talk to voters about his vision to move Orange County forward by finding common sense for common ground on issues of healthcare, jobs and protecting our coast instead of lying about internal party politics. All good Democrats should do the same.”
Just before noon Monday, the Weekly received an email from the Keirstead campaign “clarifying” what it said on Saturday. It begins: “Clarifying an earlier release that was unintentionally confusing due to staff error, Saturday at the Region 18 Pre-Endorsement Conference for CA-48, delegates voted overwhelmingly in favor of supporting Dr. Hans Keirstead, CA-48 will now be up for endorsement consideration at the state party convention in February.”
Included is this new quote from the candidate that removes the California Democratic Party: “I’m thrilled to have received such strong support from the voting delegates.” It then continues with the rest of the quote as it was stated on Saturday.
The Keirstead campaign never uses the word “frontrunner” to describe its man, who is nonetheless singled out for: being “the only candidate in the race with endorsements from members of Congress;” leading “the primary field in fundraising every quarter since he announced—with 80% of his grassroots support coming from individuals giving under $100;” and raising more money than Rouda and the rest of the field in the third quarter while nearly equaling Rohrabacher.
By contrast, his opponent’s campaign claims, “Harley Rouda by every available metric is the Democratic frontrunner in the race for the 48th Congressional District, leading the campaign in fundraising with $1.2 million raised, endorsements, and polling numbers.”
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.