Republicans Leaning on Andal to Ramp Up Effort

Posted June 10, 2008 at 6:22pm

Correction Appended

Dean Andal, recruited by the GOP with great fanfare to challenge freshman Rep. Jerry McNerney (D) in California’s 11th district, is now coming under attack from Republicans in Washington, D.C., for running what they contend is a flawed campaign.

Andal, a former state Assemblyman, is facing increasing criticism for his fundraising and general campaign strategy, with the grumbling emanating from Republicans in the consulting and lobbying communities. Privately, Republicans on Capitol Hill are also expressing concern.

The handful of sources interviewed for this story on Tuesday declined to discuss their concerns on the record. But all are Washington, D.C.-based Republican strategists who had until recently been singing Andal’s praises and are intimately familiar with the GOP-leaning 11th district.

“I think the fundamentals are there to pull this off,” said one GOP operative. “But Andal still has to run a fundamentally sound race. He hasn’t done that so far.”

With 30 open seats to defend and far less cash to spend on House races than national Democrats, the Republicans have nevertheless felt highly optimistic about their prospects in the 11th district because of McNerney’s perceived weaknesses and Andal’s assumed strengths.

But lately, that optimism has transformed into some serious worrying. The grumbling surfaced in mid-April, following the release of Andal’s first-quarter Federal Election Commission fundraising report, elevating in mid-May upon the release of his pre-primary report.

McNerney reported more than $1.2 million in cash on hand as of May 14, while raising nearly $470,000 during the first five and a half months of the year. Andal reported $509,000 on hand as of May 14, while raising just $103,500 during the same period.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), noting that virtually the entire California House Republican delegation was raising money for Andal and committed to helping him win, indicated that he understood why some Republicans following this race might be concerned with Andal’s fundraising. But he said their concern was unnecessary.

“This is a marathon. There are some miles we run faster than others,” McCarthy said.

Richard Temple, Andal’s chief campaign strategist, said he understands that there might be some nervousness among Republicans in Washington, D.C. Temple recently served as former Rep. Doug Ose’s top strategist in his losing bid for the GOP nomination in California’s 4th district.

Temple suggested that the National Republican Congressional Committee is worried because they have little money to spend on the upcoming elections and are reeling from three special election losses. Still, he acknowledged that in such a highly targeted race — one of the GOP’s few potential bright spots on the 2008 map — scrutiny comes with the territory.

However, he referred to all of the hand-wringing coming out of the nation’s capital as “misplaced,” and he said Andal was executing a plan that will ultimately prove successful on Nov. 4.

“People can be nervous. People can say it’s not good enough,” said Temple, who is based in Sacramento. “The reality is, this is a non-story from the point that it’s inaccurate.”

Temple said Andal has been focused on walking precincts and building grass-roots support, including in the western portion of the district that Republicans have historically ignored but that have already proved fruitful. To date, Andal has knocked on doors in 25 percent of the district, and Temple said this one-on-one contact with voters is key to deflecting Democratic attacks that have already begun.

Andal hails from Stockton, in the heart of the Republican-strong San Joaquin Valley portion of the seat, and his base there is solid. In his state Assembly victories in the early 1990s, Andal appealed to Democrats and won in a majority Democratic legislative district while maintaining the strong support of his Republican constituents.

Temple said Andal is on pace to raise $1.5 million to $2 million for the cycle — McNerney had raised $1.9 million as of May 14 — emphasizing that money would not be a problem in a district where enrolled Republicans outnumber Democrats by 8,500 and most voters tend to lean philosophically conservative.

According to Temple, Andal to date has raised more than $750,000 for the cycle and has around $600,000 on hand. He continues to actively raise money and is not waiting for August and September to make his next fundraising push, as some of his D.C. critics have asserted.

Specifically, Temple noted two fundraisers Andal held in the past month, including one headlined by House Chief Deputy Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

Andal’s critics insist that he is not doing enough to win, particularly in the current political environment.

“He’s dialing it in,” said a native Californian and Republican operative who is now based in D.C. “He’s got the attitude of a Member of Congress. He doesn’t have the attitude of a challenger fighting to get elected in his district.”

Republicans who are among the very concerned say a wholesale change of strategy is needed. They would like to see Andal do more than walk precincts.

They want him to begin defining McNerney over the summer and shedding light on a House voting record that they argue is completely at odds with 11th district voters. The Congressman’s biggest asset, they claim, is that very few of his constituents actually know who he is.

And they want Andal to raise more money to ensure that his message does not get drowned out by McNerney in the heat of the fall campaign. They worry that Andal’s plans to raise money in the summer and early fall could backfire, as donors might determine at that point that he has less of a chance to win and decide not to give as much then as they might have early this year.

Andal, said one Republican strategist, is “a good guy and a good candidate in a good district, he’s just been sold a bad bill of goods and needs to make a change, or he’ll” lose. In a move that was generally praised in Washington, D.C., Andal recently hired John Franklin to serve a his campaign manager.

Franklin formerly worked for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and most recently ran a Central Valley race for a state Senator facing a recall. Franklin’s candidate survived that recall attempt.

McNerney is one of the few House Democratic incumbents considered vulnerable this cycle, and Republicans have been planning to heavily target his seat in the fall. In the previous cycle, McNerney defeated then-House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (R).

Republicans give the Congressman little, if any, credit for his victory, chalking it up to the Democratic wave, Pombo’s ethical baggage and the millions of dollars spent by environmental advocacy groups on McNerney’s behalf.

Even the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, believing McNerney was a poor fit for the district, recruited airline pilot Steve Filson to run in what turned out to be a losing cause in the 2006 Democratic primary.

Andal didn’t have an opponent in the June 3 GOP primary. The DCCC, conceding that Andal could be a dangerous challenger, has wasted no time in trying to damage his image, recently launching the Web site “Radical Andal” (radicalandal.org).

“We always expected Republicans to compete in California’s 11th,” DCCC spokesman Yoni Cohen said. “But the more Californians learn about radical Dean Andal, the more extreme they know he is and we’re confident Congressman McNerney will win re-election.”

Correction: June 11, 2008

The article mistakenly reported that California 11th district GOP nominee Dean Andal recently served as the campaign strategist for former Rep. Doug Ose (R). Richard Temple, who is Andal’s chief strategist, served as Ose’s chief consultant.