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IN MY ORBIT: Why Christy Smith Lost CA-25 and What Republicans Can Learn From It

Los Angeles Magazine ran an article titled, Mike Garcia Trailed in Every Poll. So How Did He Win Twice in One Year?

“After a tumultuous campaign year that saw Republican Mike Garcia win a special election by nine points in May to serve out the rest of former Rep. Katie Hill’s term, the fighter pilot and former Raytheon executive managed to defeat Democrat Christy Smith in the November election by just 333 votes almost a month after election day.”

I think a better exploration would have been, Why Christy Smith Lost When She was Ahead in Every Poll.

The piece does delve into this issue a little bit, but failed to mention what really turned the tide: Christy Smith’s embrace of, vote for, and refusal to denounce AB5, the job killing legislation which has outlawed independent contracting in the State. A good majority of CA-25’s constituents are the self-employed, independent contractors, and small businesses that have been hampered and decimated by this law. Smith clearly chose to ignore this, and it factored greatly into her loss.

Smith refused to denounce the tainted law, and in the primary even said the self-employed do not pay taxes. She never walked that statement back.

She was the original co-author on the law’s equally-flawed exemption, AB2257, which gave some musicians and writers looser handcuffs in terms of independent contractor work. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-Debacle) took Smith’s off the bill during the primary. Once Smith lost the primary, Gonzalez put her back on the bill, which was voted on and signed into law in September.

CREDIT: Screenshot, CA Assembly Bill 2257, 2020

However, Smith’s cautionary tale, along with Mike Garcia’s razor-thin second win should be an object lesson to California Republicans and Republicans across the board. While it was a better than expected election year in terms of flipping FOUR Blue California districts back to Red, it is by no means a mandate or a reason to rest on our laurels. There are reasons why Mike Garcia did not do better in terms of vote margins in the November election, and there are even greater reasons why Garcia resonated with the voters where Smith did not.

Smith Blamed Division for her Loss; Garcia Expressed Grace and Gratitude in his Wins.

“A tip of the hat to Christy Smith who ran an excellent and aggressive campaign. Running in these elections is difficult, and she did it with grace.”

“I am honored by the supporters who voted for me and humbled by those who did not. In the end, I will work hard for each and every one of you. And for our nation.”

Garcia not only acknowledged Smith and his other opponents in both contests this year, but he acknowledged the people who did not vote for him committing to work hard for them despite that. He also spoke of his role to the Nation, which is what a Congressman should do. His words exhibit unity and inclusion.

Smith’s, on the other hand, was insular and sought to amplify the division.

“This is not the end result we fought for, but I am proud of the strong, grassroots campaign we ran,” she wrote.

She used “I” A LOT. What this says to me is the campaign was about her, not about CA-25 and the work there that needs to be done. Smith’s message did not even mention her opponent, and lacked optimism or any reflection of a national thought process.

“The results show our district is deeply divided. I am ready to work with partners across our community to heal division, move forward and rebuild together.”

Smith plans to run again in 2022 and will probably bring the same blame and shame attitude, along with her clueless viewpoints and divisive rhetoric.

Republicans need to take a hat tip from Garcia’s style and make this a part of their candidate’s communication strategy:

  • Be magnanimous.
  • Embrace all the constituents.
  • Embody the office you plan to hold.
Smith showed she was a part of the Democrat machine; Garcia showed he was a part of the community.

Smith was endorsed by California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Corrupt), former President Barack Obama and former VP Joe Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senators Dianne Feinstein, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, and Rep. Adam Schiff.

What does this tell you? That Smith was more intent on the approval of D.C. figureheads than the approval of the people she was supposed to serve. This was someone who was not even a part of the Capitol club; she was a California Assemblywoman. But in her policy positions and her attitudes, she was hyper focused on party loyalty and top-level voter approval, rather than the people in her community.

From the Los Angeles Magazine article:

“I told [Smith] that in CA-25, the highest percentage of Democrats are in Palmdale, so let me help you,” Ohlsen says. “She refused. After the primary was over, she decided she had a problem with progressives, and ignored the Antelope Valley because of it. And if you can’t come here and get Democrats in the highest percentage Democrat area, you can’t win.”

This goes back to her refusal to denounce AB5. You cannot claim you’re about the community, yet work to take away money from the people who are a part of the community, not to mention malign and insult their hard work.

According to chatter on the 25th Congressional District Election Watch Facebook page, Smith’s campaign left much to be desired. One poster said, “It was the campaign staff she herself chose and whose shortcomings she ignored. So it all fell on her shoulders and she ran it the way she wanted to run it.”

Her own District Director and State Assembly campaign manager Ryan Valencia was convicted on an enhanced DUI charge in 2017, which came after he crashed into a house, severely damaging it, and pictures surfaced showing him drinking while on probation for that charge, which he was explicitly prohibited from doing. Chatter in a Simi Valley candidates Facebook group gives indication that this may still be an issue. Candidate associations matter, as will be further explored.

Garcia reached out to the community with his policies, and cast a vision toward how to incorporate these into a national response.

The economy, COVID, and our youth: the future of the nation. Garcia pretty much stuck to those talking points and did not veer. Garcia also roundly condemned AB5 and has called for its repeal.

Smith was locked in by her previous vote and words about AB5, which she assumed voters would forget. She was wrong.

Save for tying Garcia to President Donald J. Trump, and maligning his business and military experience, Smith did not outline concrete policies that people could latch onto. She merely did a compare contrast of, “I won’t be like him”, but she did not give a clear picture of exactly how she would represent CA-25 in Washington, D.C.

This is reflective of Smith’s Assembly career, where she held her thumb in the wind to see which way it was blowing. Smith also aligned herself with the power brokers: Speaker Rendon and Lorena Gonzalez, and depended on them to give her directional cues. This came off as a candidate who had no independent ideas or thought of her own. Smith’s social media feed, while not an arbiter, is a good indication that she had no consistent policy points or values. These things also cost her.

The California candidates who flipped Districts 21 (David Valadao), 25 (Mike Garcia), 39 (Young Kim), and 48 (Michelle Steel) connected with the community and community concerns, and spoke of policies that would benefit them, as well as the nation. Republicans too often depend on high-powered donors and special events, rather than allowing their candidates to connect to their base and the people they are supposed to serve. For 2022, Representative Mike Garcia would do well to keep this focus and not allow party leadership to steer him in a direction that causes him to lose this edge. People are no longer looking at just the brand, but the measure of the man (or woman).

Smith reflected the values of the Democrat Party; Garcia reflected the values of CA-25.

Some disclosure is required. I contributed to Mike Garcia’s campaign not only as a volunteer, but financially. I do not live in CA-25; sadly, I’m in CA-41 and still stuck with Chris Holden (D-Crook). What I did connect with is friends who do live in CA-25 (our Deputy Managing Editor Jennifer Van Laar being one of them), and their great respect for Garcia; as a businessman, a contributor to the community, and as a proven leader. As stated above, Garcia also took a strong stance from the beginning against AB5, so in terms of supporting candidates who embody the values that I wanted to see in our national legislative body, Mike Garcia is that, and I am very glad he pulled it out.

Just as Smith could not remove the stain of AB5 from her run, she also could not distance herself from the scandal that was Katie Hill. Smith was part and parcel of Hill’s rise and her corrupt 2018 win. The people of CA-25 who remembered the debacle were not going to let Smith get away with that so easily. By their vote, they hung it around her neck, and it served to weigh her down.

The Los Angeles Magazine article also recognized this:

“I like that Garcia has actual business experience,” Dixon-Hamilton says. “But [Smith] came off as a political opportunist, who wanted to fill Katie Hill’s seat who just wanted to be the next blond Democratic woman from CA-25.”

“There was some ambiguity between Katie Hill and Christy Smith,” Nevarez says. “Garcia’s message was on point, talking about national security and term limits, and even before he was elected, he portrayed himself as the voice of the people.”

Garcia represents hard work, and using that hard work to create success, not at cheating your way to a seat. Democrats, Republicans, and Non-Party Preference voters saw that, felt it reflected their path and values, and could respect it and vote for it.

Like Garcia, Republicans need to cultivate more proven candidates who exemplify and can articulate the values that their constituents care about and want to see furthered.

The slow but steady Red Wave in California happened for a reason, and it cannot be replicated without the party recognizing that they didn’t bring much to the table. Recognizing what works, acknowledging an electorate that will not necessarily vote along party lines, and maximizing success rather than doubling down on failure are critical to not only holding the line, but changing the narrative.

Christy Smith didn’t learn that lesson. We’ll see if she has learned it before her 2022 run.


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