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Political endorsements for North County candidates
Conservative radio host Larry Elder, left, Rep. Mike Levin, center, and former Congresswoman Mimi Walters, right, all recently made endorsements for North County candidates. Courtesy photos/Photo by Steve Puterski
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Endorsements trickling in for North County candidates

REGION — Endorsements are starting to trickle in for North County candidates running for office in 2022, with a couple of incoming candidates already garnering support from some well-recognized names.

Conservative radio host and former California gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder endorsed Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett on Jan. 17 in support of her campaign for the 49th Congressional District seat.

“California’s 49th district may very well dictate the balance of power in Congress — it is an incredibly important and very winnable seat for Republicans,” said Elder in a released statement on the endorsement. “That is why I am proudly endorsing Lisa Bartlett for Congress.”

Elder spoke highly of Bartlett’s record as a supervisor, touting her track record of conservative policy positions, and asserted that Bartlett will be the most viable Republican candidate to defeat incumbent Mike Levin (CA-49). 

“Lisa is a commonsense conservative with a proven track record of getting things done for her constituents,” Elder said. “When [CA Governor] Gavin Newsom tried to lock down the economy, Lisa stood up for the families and small businesses in her district. Out of all the Republican candidates in the field, Lisa by far and away gives us the best shot to defeat Mike Levin and win back the seat.”

Elder ran unsuccessfully to unseat Newsom in California’s gubernatorial recall election last year. 

Bartlett, who just announced her candidacy for the 49th seat on Dec. 31, welcomed Elder’s endorsement, calling it a major “vote of confidence” for her campaign. She also emphasized the urgency Republicans in the district should have for replacing Levin, whom she expressed has exercised “dismal leadership.”  

“In the face of rising crime and inflation, Mike Levin is embracing trillions in government spending and the same soft on crime policies that are destroying places like San Francisco and Los Angeles,” the supervisor said in her statement.  “Under Levin…the country is headed in the wrong direction, whether you are talking about the economy, public safety, education, protecting constitutional rights, or the response to COVID-19. It’s time for a change.”

When she entered the race in December, Bartlett joined an already crowded GOP field vying to unseat Levin. Republican candidates that have declared their campaigns already include former San Juan Capistrano mayor Brian Maryott, Oceanside city councilman Chris Rodriguez, and army veteran and security contractor Josiah O’Neil, who declared his candidacy on Wednesday. 

On Tuesday, Maryott announced his official endorsement by the Orange County Republican Party via supermajority vote. 

We proudly endorse conservative businessman and former San Juan Capistrano Mayor Brian Maryott for Congress,” the group said in a statement. “Brian built his career helping hundreds of Orange County families manage their income and invest in their future. In contrast Democrat Mike Levin has rubberstamped every giant spending bill and every tax increase to come in front of Congress. Levin is a loyal vote for Nancy Pelosi. Brian Maryott will be a loyal vote for his constituents in Orange and San Diego Counties.” 

The endorsements received by Bartlett and Maryott are significant this early in the race and seem to signal that the GOP establishment is somewhat divided over which candidate to back, said Thad Kousser, chairman of the political science department at UCSD. 

“Larry Elder has the highest value of any California Republican right now…it shows that you have the next best thing to Donald Trump’s endorsement and shows that you’re part of the newly energized conservative movement in California,” Kousser said.

Given Bartlett’s late entrance into the race, the endorsement by Elder also signals that some in the Republican establishment are likely not satisfied with the rest of the GOP field, Kousser added. 

“It shows that the GOP is looking for a stronger candidate…that there are those in the party who may not be satisfied with the current candidates,” Kousser said.

Rep. Mike Levin speaks about his proposed legislation prohibiting offshore drilling along the Southern California coast during Tuesday's press conference in Encinitas. Photo by Bill Slane
Rep. Mike Levin endorsed Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear for the 38th State Senate District race. Levin himself has received a number of endorsements from prominent left-leaning groups. Photo by Bill Slane

Conversely, Maryott’s endorsement by the Orange County Republican Party is significant and will likely to lead to more support for his campaign, as endorsements at the party level mean a lot to political insiders and major donors, the political scientist said. 

“This is really important, and it does show that there’s a split in the Republican establishment,” Kousser said. “The party endorsement is really the most important signal for candidates, the state party endorsement obviously carries the most weight overall…but this is a key win for Brian Maryott. This does mean that we’ll be seeing a competitive race between two Republicans…one where the establishment is concerned about picking the best Republican possible to beat Mike Levin.”

Maryott has also been endorsed by State Sen. Brian Jones (R-Santee), Assemblywoman Marie Waldron (R-Escondido) and Vista Mayor Judy Ritter, along with a host of other local and state representatives. 

Levin has received endorsements from a number of prominent left-leaning groups including the Democratic Women’s Club of San Diego County, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Equality California and NARAL Pro-Choice America. 

Rodriguez has received support from Young Guns, a GOP voter recruitment program led by Congressman Kevin McCarthy, and the Patriots for Freedom PAC. 

State Senate District 38

Endorsements are also beginning to heat up after the new year in the race for state senator in District 38. Newly formed in last month’s redistricting, District 38 is largely composed of the old 36th District and runs approximately from San Onofre in the north as far south as San Diego’s Mission Beach.

Democratic candidate and Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear is facing off against Republican frontrunner and political outsider Matt Gunderson, as both candidates are vying to replace incumbent State Sen. Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel), who cannot seek reelection due to term limits.

On January 4, Republican frontrunner and political outsider Matt Gunderson announced that he had been endorsed by Bates, as well as by former Congresswoman Mimi Walters. 

“Now, more than ever it’s important to support candidates with common sense and integrity,” Bates said in a press release. “That’s why I’m endorsing Matt Gunderson for the 38th Senate District. Matt will put the constituents of the 38th district over politics and special interests. Matt will fight for California’s taxpayers, business owners, students, and parents. I have every bit of confidence that he is the best person to succeed me in representing constituents in Orange and San Diego Counties.” 

Matt Gunderson is a political newcomer seeking California's 36th State Senate seat
Political newcomer Matt Gunderson received State Sen. Pat Bates’ endorsement in the 38th State Senate District race. Courtesy photo

Gunderson, a longtime Orange County community member and a former car dealership owner in Mission Viejo, has never held elected office. 

Receiving an endorsement from the elected incumbent is significant for Gunderson and shows that Republicans are coalescing behind a single candidate in their efforts to defeat Blakespear, Kousser said. 

“Certainly this is huge for Gunderson. Having an endorsement from an incumbent is the single most valuable endorsement you can get outside of the party itself,” Kousser said. “It’s a way of showing that you actually have a real shot, and that’s important for Republicans right now.” 

Republicans in North County are likely to quickly unite around Gunderson, especially given past elections in the region where the party has suffered electoral losses due to its failure to form a strong coalition early on, Kousser said. 

In 2018, for instance, in the race for the 76th Assembly District (a seat held by Democrat Tasha Boerner Horvath), Republicans suffered a bitter defeat and were unable to even present a candidate in the general election due to extensive party infighting between six different GOP candidates in the primary.

Since state senate seat races are two-candidate elections — meaning the top two candidates in the primary advance to the general election regardless of party affiliation — too many candidates in the primary can be highly problematic, something that Bates and Walters likely took into account in making the move to back Gunderson, Kousser said. 

“Republicans in the North County are attuned to the need to coalesce around one candidate. This endorsement is a sign that senator Bates, who is a central leader in the Republican state senate, thinks that Gunderson is Republican’s best shot of winning a competitive district.” 

Blakespear has already received a slew of endorsements herself. San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, Boerner Horvath, Levin and Assemblyman Brian Maienschein are among the more than 100 elected officials that have endorsed the Encinitas mayor so far, per Blakespear’s campaign website.

She has also been endorsed by a number of labor unions, including the California Teachers Association, Domestic Workers of California and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569.