Since inaugurating his congressional campaign in April, Carl DeMaio has raised nearly half a million dollars in political contributions from a wide variety of concerns, including out-of-state voters, corporate political action committees and Republican leaders in Washington, D.C.
As he weighs whether to run for mayor, that war chest would put him a step ahead of other contestants in the race.
But political consultants and analysts say the size of the war chest can create pressures, too, from Republican Party operatives worried about what would happen to the congressional race if he pulls out, as well as out-of-state donors who gave their money thinking they were funding a campaign for Capitol Hill rather than City Hall.
And if DeMaio did switch to run for mayor, campaign laws would prohibit him from transferring all of his funds into the mayoral race. Instead, his war chest might shrink from nearly $488,000 to a still substantial, but not quite as impressive $314,000.
“Right now, Carl DeMaio would be the 800-pound gorilla in the mayoral race, with a prodigious fundraising machine that has been sending out emails and making robocalls for the past several months,” said Steve Erie, political scientist at the University of California San Diego. “But he has to be getting some real pressure from the Republican National Committee, which I don’t think has a replacement candidate for his congressional race.”
The DeMaio campaign denies that the Republican Party is putting any pressure on the candidate. But he still has given no definitive answer of whether he is in the race.
In a press release about Bob Filner’s resignation Friday, he was said to be conferring with “various supporters and community leaders” about possibly running for mayor.
“Now is the time to put aside partisan differences to seek healing, foster unity and restore stability at City Hall,” he said.
But on Tuesday, he held a congressional campaign fundraiser at the Hard Rock Hotel, with invitations saying “We need Carl in Congress more than ever …. This congressional race is not only important to San Diego, but will be one of the most-watched congressional races in the country.”
And there’s no mistaking the focus that the party is putting on its effort to unseat newly elected Rep. Scott Peters from the 52nd Congressional District, which both Democrats and Republicans have put a high priority on because of its relatively even split between parties.
When Peters ran against incumbent Republican incumbent Brian Bilbray last year, it was the fourth-most expensive campaign in the nation, with spending by the candidates and outside funds totaling nearly $17 million. Peters won the campaign by only 0.7 percent of the votes, hinting that he could be in a vulnerable position in a district where Republicans hold a 2 percent registration lead.
That has turned the DeMaio campaign into a magnet for Republican funds. Political action committees run by Republican Reps. Eric Cantor of Virginia, Tom Price of Georgia and Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield have donated $21,000 to DeMaio’s campaign. The Associated Builders and Contractors PAC donated $5,000, as did the PAC of Emerson Electric Co. in St. Louis.
He has also attracted more than $7,000 from out-of-state voters, led by lobbying concerns in Washington, D.C., who might not be seen as natural contributors to a San Diego mayoral campaign.
Under federal and local law, there are no prohibitions against transferring contributions from a federal congressional campaign to a mayoral race. But San Diego does ban contributions from political action committees, which would immediately cut DeMaio’s war chest by $31,100.
San Diego also bans contributions of more than $1,000. Roughly 180 DeMaio contributors have already topped that limit, giving him $143,000 more than would be allowed in a mayoral campaign.
Since April, such wealthy business leaders as developers Doug Manchester and Mark McMillin, jeweler Leo Hamel and Resmed Chairman Peter Farrell, each contributed $5,200 to DeMaio’s congressional campaign — the maximum allowed for individual donors in a congressional campaign. But if he ran for mayor, he would have to return or otherwise dispose of most of that money.
DeMaio’s campaign said that if he decides to run for mayor, he would confer with donors before transferring their money.