California Democrat Gil Cisneros, who is running in a tight open-seat contest in a conservative-leaning district, is facing criticism for campaigning with a state senator recalled for his vote raising gas taxes across the state.
Cisneros's Sunday campaign appearances with former state senator Josh Newman came the same day news broke that Democratic leaders are facing a mutiny by four Democratic congressional candidates in the state opposed to the recent gas tax hike.
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The Navy veteran and lottery winner is running against Republican Young Kim to replace retiring Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.) in the traditionally conservative Orange County district. Cisneros announced on Twitter Friday that Newman would be joining him for a Sunday campaign event.
"We need grassroots support in order to defeat the PACs & special interests aligning behind @YoungKimCD39," he tweeted. "Join Team Gil & special guest Josh Newman this Sunday the 26th, at 3 PM for a Day of Action! #CA39 #GilontheHill."
The decision had California political observers scratching their heads. Newman's successful recall by a 20-point margin ended the Democratic super-majority in Sacramento through the end of the year.
"Trotting out a former state senator who was just overwhelmingly recalled by voters in this congressional district seems like a sound strategy," tweeted Rob Pyers, the research director for the non-partisan California Target Book, which tracks political contests in the state.
The California Republican Party blasted the move as out of touch with voters in the district, roughly 80 percent of which overlaps with Newman's former state senate district.
"We heard you're campaigning with a special guest on Saturday, former senator Josh Newman," the party tweeted, along with an ad bashing Newman for his 2017 vote supporting the gas tax. "Just an FYI, voters recalled Newman (nearly 60%) in June for raising gas taxes on working-class Californians."
A Cisneros campaign spokesman confirmed that Newman "stopped by a field office and gave quick guest remarks before our volunteers went out to canvass."
He said Cisneros did not support raising the gas tax but said he doesn’t back its repeal now. Cisneros, in a post on medium.com said President Trump has forced California lawmakers to act by failing to follow through with his promises to push billions of infrastructure spending through Congress.
"I do not support repeal of the gas tax because our local businesses and workers need certainty and work is already underway on local projects like 46 lane miles of State Route 57," he said in the post. "While I didn’t support raising the gas tax because California families shouldn’t have to pay for the Trump administration's misplaced priorities and tax giveaways to big corporations, jobs are on the line and we must finish what we started."
If elected, he pledged to "push for a bipartisan infrastructure spending plan that won't place the burden on California commuters and will strengthen our roads, bridges, highways, and waterways."
The contest is attracting national attention, as Democrats attempt to flip seven GOP seats in the state in districts that voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016. Kim bested Cisneros by just two percentage points in the primary, where the top two vote-getters go on to compete in the general.
An internal Democratic poll in June gave Kim a 2 percent edge, 45 percent to Cisneros's 43 percent, in the match-up. An internal Cisneros poll conducted this month purportedly showed an 11-point advantage over Kim, with 53 percent of voters saying they would vote for him and 42 percent saying they planned to vote for Kim.
Cisneros's support for the gas tax could hurt him heading into the final two months of campaigning.
Over the last week, four Democrats in tight congressional contests have come out in favor of repealing the gas tax.
Katie Porter, who is trying to unseat Rep. Mimi Walters (R., Calif.) in another Orange County district, and Josh Harder, who is challenging Rep. Jeff Denham (R., Calif.) in the Central Valley, were the first Democrats to come out in support of Proposition 6, a ballot initiative that would repeal the gas tax.
Over the weekend, they were joined by Jessica Morse, who is taking on Rep. Tom McClintock (R., Calif.) in the mountainous areas east of Sacramento, as well as Ammar Campa-Najjar, who is running in eastern San Diego against Rep. Duncan Hunter, Jr., who was indicted last week for allegedly misusing his campaign funds.
Overall, 51 percent of registered California voters favor repealing the higher gas tax, according to a statewide poll conducted by USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times in May. In the conservative areas of the state, the poll showed a dramatic uptick in support: 56 percent of voters in the Central Valley and 64 percent in Orange and San Diego counties and the Inland Empire.
Cisneros's liberal Democratic base in the district, as well as most Democrats across the state, are continuing to support the gas tax as necessary for funding road and transit projects throughout the state and argue that public safety is at stake.
"The broad coalition of firefighters, highway patrolmen, and civil engineers who oppose Prop 6 know that road safety is not a partisan issue, it's a public safety issue," said Robin Swanson, a spokeswoman for the No on Prop 6 campaign. "There is no such thing as a Democrat or Republican pothole, only dangerous potholes that damage our cars and endanger our lives."
Conservative organizers of the gas-tax repeal effort dismiss the public safety arguments as insincere, arguing that only a small percentage of the gas tax is devoted to road construction and that portion could have been funded by previous gas-tax increases, but Democrats siphoned off those funds to other areas of the budget.
Outgoing California governor Jerry Brown has vowed to fight the repeal, viewing the gas-tax increase he helped to pass as a significant part of his legacy. Meanwhile, national Republicans are hoping the gas-tax repeal can help drive GOP turnout in the state to avoid the so-called blue wave that would sweep Democrats into power in Congress.