Congressional Candidates Defy Long Odds To Take On Entrenched Incumbents
This story has been updated.
You'd be forgiven if you thought there was only one congressional race in San Diego this year. There are actually five, but political experts say the only competitive race is between Rep. Scott Peters and Carl DeMaio in the 52nd District.
That's because voter registration in all the other districts strongly favors either the Republican or Democratic party.
However, that doesn't stop some people from running to challenge each incumbent.
James Kimber, a Democrat, is challenging the Republican Duncan Hunter Jr. in the 50th District, which spans much of unincorporated San Diego County. Kimber has never run for office before.
"It takes a lot of work, I can see, to get out to meet these people, but it's worth it to me," Kimber said. "I want people to know why I'm running, why I'm doing this, what I stand for, but I also want to know what they want, what it is that they believe in."
Kimber said he has a shot to unseat Hunter, who was preceded in office by his father. That's because Kimber says he's a very conservative Democrat. In fact, up until 2012, Kimber was a registered Republican. He changed registration shortly before announcing his run against Hunter. Even though he hadn't always voted Republican, he hadn't seen the need to change his party until then.
"I was probably more of an independent voter, I don't think in my entire life that I have ever voted straight down the line," Kimber said.
Kimber was a senior chief hospital corpsman in the Navy, and now works as a physician's assistant in neurological surgery. His campaign is focused on veterans' issues and health care, which he brought up in a debate last week.
Kimber shared an anecdote of a man who confronted him in Ramona. The man had his "finger in my chest telling me he was a Republican and why was I even here?" he told the audience.
"I asked him what his issue was, he told me it was health care. So I asked him 'What type of insurance do you have?' and he told me he didn't have any insurance. This is a man who has his own job, supports himself and his family really well, but he cannot afford the insurance. We were able to pull up Covered California and show him what his rate would be, and that man wanted to sign up right on the spot."
Kimber knows his district strongly favors Republicans, but he's putting a lot of time and money into his campaign anyway. He's raised more than $35,000, while Hunter has raised more than $1 million.
Kimber has given almost $10,000 to his own campaign, plus has spent another $5,000 on campaign expenses.
"I was told not to mortgage my home, because I came close to doing that, but I've gone through a lot of my own money and I just believe in it that much," he said.
In a different race, a Republican candidate is giving it his all against an entrenched Democrat.
Larry Wilske is running to unseat Rep. Susan Davis in the 53rd District, which covers most of the city of San Diego. He has also never run for office before, and said despite the odds, he has a shot.
"The thing is, the whole district is patriotic," Wilske said. "So if I throw out Republican, Democrat as a title and stick to what I understand, and that's service to country. People are getting behind me and it's heart-warming to tell you the truth."
Davis has raised more than $400,000, while Wilske has raised just under $150,000.
He has also loaned his own campaign $130,000.
"We've reached our limit on what I can spend myself because it came out of our savings. It was for our future, but again it's for our country and it's for service to country, so we can afford that," Wilske said.
Wilske was a Navy SEAL for 30 years, and served as the command master chief of SEAL Team 7. He retired last year, and was planning to start a towing and salvage business. Then he was asked to run against Davis by a politically involved Point Loma resident, though he wouldn't say whom.
"If (Davis) was doing a great job in leadership, then I wouldn't be running for office," Wilske said.
Wilske wants to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and curtail states' use of cap and trade, which he says is based on a "global warming scare."
His campaign is focusing on economic issues, including building a stronger partnership with Mexico and a plan to bring a third aircraft carrier to San Diego.
"But our congressional delegation didn't put up a fight for it," he said of the aircraft carrier. "I don't believe that just because you're a freshman in Congress that you don't stand and fight for what you believe in, that would be like taking a soldier on his first deployment to war and say, 'Don't shoot the enemy.' That's insane. But they didn't really put up much of a fight.
"And then the leadership, the ranking member of the core delegation here in San Diego, Susan Davis, who I'm running against, didn't lead on that issue."
Wilske and Kimber are hoping they'll get the chance to lead their districts. They just have to get voters to know who they are, and that there are other Congressional elections besides the one between Democrat Scott Peters and Republican Carl DeMaio in the 52nd District.