U.S. Rep. Susan Davis, the Democrat currently representing California’s 53rd Congressional District, has decided not to seek reelection, leaving the safe Democratic seat open for a Democrat who will likely emerge from the crowded primary field.
According to the most recent poll on the race, from the San Diego Times Union, there are two clear frontrunners heading into the March 3 top-two primary, in which the recipients of the two largest vote totals, regardless of party, will advance to the November general election ballot: former Hillary Clinton adviser Sara Jacobs, a Democrat, and Marine Corps pilot Chris Stoddard, a Republican.
Placing third in the poll is San Diego City Council President Georgette Gómez, a progressive whose policy platform includes support for Medicare for All and a Green New Deal and who has been endorsed by national progressive group Justice Democrats and by presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.)
Jacobs, whose endorsers tend to occupy the more moderate wing of the Democratic Party, appears to have consolidated the lion’s share of the support in the race, with 23 percent of voters telling the pollster they would vote for her over the 10 other Democrats she is running against. It’s likely that her overwhelming support among Democrats will prevent a second Democrat from advancing to the general election ballot along with her.
How is Jacobs performing so well despite Gómez’s political experience in the district and her backing from the surging Sanders movement? One answer may be found in Forward California, a super PAC formed in January to support her candidacy. Since Feb. 5, the PAC has spent $936,000 on TV ads and $141,000 on digital ads, as well as additional funds on mailers and strategic consulting services to support her.
The super PAC has just two donors according to Federal Election Commission records reviewed by Sludge: Jacob’s billionaire grandparents, Irwin and Joan Jacobs. The couple has combined to give the super PAC at least $1.5 million according to the most recently available disclosures.
Irwin Jacobs made his fortune as the co-founder and chairman of Qualcomm, a Fortune 500 semiconductor and telecommunications equipment company. He has been a prolific political donor over the years, contributing six figures to several liberal super PACs including Priorities USA, American Bridge 21st Century, and Senate Majority PAC.
Sara Jacobs is also self-funding a large portion of her campaign, providing nearly all of the more than $2 million her campaign has taken in. Her current job, according to LinkedIn, is scholar in residence at Kroc School at the University of San Diego.
On her website, Jacobs says she supports “encouraging more participation in our democracy by supporting small dollar matching programs” as well as “a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United.” In funding Forward California, Jacobs’ grandparents are making use of the Citizens United ruling which removed the caps on what outside groups can spend on elections, as long as they do not coordinate with or donate to candidates.
Gómez’s campaign told Sludge that Jacobs and Forward California are bending the rules against coordination.
“The idea that a PAC funded by millions of dollars from the Jacobs family is actually independent from Sara Jacobs is laughable,” said Dan Rottenstreich, a Gómez campaign strategist. “If Jacobs is willing to bend the rules repeatedly as a candidate, how can we trust her to do the right thing in Congress?”
Gómez’s congressional campaign has raised $660,000, which includes a $2,000 contribution from the candidate, according to the FEC.
Gómez has also received some outside support in the race. The Committee for Hispanic Causes BOLD PAC, which has taken its largest contribution this election cycle from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ($51,000), has spent $146,000 on mailer supporting Gómez. Another organization, Equality PAC, has spent another $131,000 on mailers for Gómez. Equality PAC’s top donor this cycle is House Majority PAC, which gave it $125,000.
In the district’s 2018 top-two primary, incumbent Susan Davis received 64.1% of the 145,265 votes cast, while Republican Morgan Murtaugh edged out a second-place finish with 14.3% of the total. Republican Matt Mendoza came in third with 13.6%, according to Ballotpedia.
In 2018, Jacobs ran in the primary for California’s coastal Forty-Ninth Congressional District, coming in third with 15.8% behind Republican Diane Harkey (25.5%) and Democrat Mike Levin (17.5%). Levin won the midterm contest against Harkey with 56.4% of the general election vote. A San Diego Tribune article in the 2018 primary raised questions of Jacobs inflating her resume regarding her claim of serving in “key policy positions at the State Department,” having in fact worked as a junior-level contractor with IEA Corporation.
Sludge emailed the Jacobs campaign for comment on the spending in the race but did not receive an immediate response.
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