Newsom's opponent: I'm reasonable, not a 'crazy Republican'
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Brian Dahle, the Republican Party's long hope of unseating Gov. Gavin Newsom in California, knows that in order to win in his progressive home state he cannot let Democrats label him a vote-resister, anti-abortion fighter . hateful, gun-loving, bombastic right winger.
So Dahle, an affable farmer and senator from the sparsely populated Northeast of the state, goes out of his way to make one thing clear: "I'm not a crazy Republican. I'm a reasonable person."
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Whether voters believe he is what he says and not how Democrats portray him will determine how Dahle fares against Newsom, a first-term Democrat who is an overwhelming favorite in November.
Republicans have not won statewide office in California since 2006 because their candidates are generally little known, have little money, and are identified—rightly or wrongly—as strong social conservatives in a socially liberal state. The GOP has seen its share of registered voters shrink to the point where Democrats now have about a 2-to-1 advantage and there are almost as many Independents as Republicans.
In the California primary system, all candidates compete against each other and the two with the most votes advance to the general election. Newsom won last month with 56%, while Dahle received just 17% in a field of more than two dozen candidates.
Against Dahle, Newsom's campaign moved quickly to identify him as the antithesis of what most Californians want.
"Dahle is a Trump Republican who wants to end abortion rights and repeal California's gun safety laws and is looking for every relevant scrap after being absolutely crushed by Governor Newsom in [the] primary," said Newsom campaign spokesman Nathan Click .
Dahle admits voting for Trump, calls himself "pro-life" and says he is a strong defender of the Second Amendment. But he says his record is more nuanced than Newsom's campaign claims.
While voting for Trump, he has not publicly reinforced Trump's lie that he is the rightful winner of the 2020 presidential election. He voted against a proposal to make abortion a constitutional right in California, but went against his party and voted for a 2021 law that would have made birth control - including the morning-after pill - much cheaper.
On guns, Dahle voted against a Newsom-backed law that would allow private individuals to sue those who sell illegal firearms and a law that would ban the marketing of guns to children. Dahle's office declined to comment on a new bill aimed at restricting where people can carry concealed firearms, in response to the US Supreme Court last month overturning the state's statute.
He wants to make stealing a gun a crime, supports improvements for gang members and others who were previously imprisoned and commit new crimes with guns. And he voted for a bill to strengthen a unique California program that confiscates guns from convicted felons they shouldn't have.
His plan to beat Newsom is to focus on what he believes people's real problems are -- record high gas prices, rising crime and the state's high cost of living -- while also focusing on Newsom, a multimillion-dollar businessman and former mayor of San Francisco, to portray. as the aloof elite.
“The facts are (Newsom) is a failure. Show me something he can do. And we will talk about that," said Dahle.
As governor, Dahle said he will push to suspend the state gas tax, which is the second-highest in the country at 53.9 cents a gallon. He says he would scrap Newsom's appointments to the state parole board, which he says often "releases violent criminals before their sentences are up."
And Dahle said he will enforce hundreds of new oil and gas well permits in the state while California regulators work on Newsom's plan to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars and lawn equipment.
Newsom won in 2018 with nearly 62% of the vote. He defeated a recall by about the same margin last year. He has $23 million in his campaign bank account and a record state budget surplus of nearly $100 billion, of which about $9.5 billion goes back to most taxpayers in rebates to offset high gas prices.
Dahle has nearly $400,000 in his campaign account. He asks his supporters to donate $1 a day to his campaign. He needs about 200,000 people to catch up on Newsom's fundraising -- which probably won't happen.
"The key to its success would be to garner the media attention it deserves to define itself beyond the party label," said Rob Nehring, former leader of the California Republican Party and 2014 Republican Party leader Lieutenant Governor nominated. "If this is just a party-preferential vote, even in a strong Republican year, he'll likely fall short."
Dahle grew up in Bieber, a tiny community of a few hundred people in the northeast of the state. His grandfather, a World War I veteran, came to California during the Great Depression and was awarded a land grant in Siskiyou County, which family legend says he won when his name was pulled from a pickle jar. The deed is signed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dahle said.
Dahle didn't go to college. He tried farming after high school but quickly lost money. To pay his creditors, he packed lunch and stood outside a sawmill every morning for three days until the owner hired him. He worked in construction for a number of years, including some long hours at a gold mine, before starting a seed business, which he still owns.
He won his first race for the Lassen County board of directors by beating a popular teacher from the town of Susanville, where most voters lived. He won a seat in the state assembly by defeating Rick Bossetti, a former professional baseball player and mayor of Redding, the largest city in the area with a population of about 90,000.
And he was elected to the State Senate by defeating Kevin Kiley, a Republican in the Assembly who lived in a much more populated area.
"He did the things you have to do and he surprised his opponents," said Jim Chapman, an independent Democrat who sat on the board with Dahle. "He has a very charismatic demeanor and from the moment I met him I knew this guy was going somewhere."
Dahle and his family seem to enjoy government life. He proposed to his wife Megan during a managerial meeting. Now Megan is a Republican in the state assembly. They are like most married couples, except when they disagree it can be part of a public record.
"I'm just teasing him and telling him, well, he was probably wrong," Megan Dahle said of the times they've voted differently on legislation. "He's a farmer, so he works hard and has great relationships with people. You can trust him.”
Upon arriving in Sacramento, Dahle endeared himself to fellow legislators in both parties by hosting tours of his district, which includes picturesque farmland in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada. In 2016, he worked with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to pass legislation aimed at blocking patients from receiving surprise bills from healthcare providers outside of their insurance network.
Last year's recall election essentially cleared the Republican field this year, as none of the frontrunners chose to challenge Newsom again. That created an opportunity for Dahle, who will be released from the Senate in 2024. He realizes that his success stems from a sudden political turnaround in a state that is shifting more to the left with every election.
"I've seen the pendulum swing, and when it swings, it swings fast," Dahle said. "So my message is, 'Hey, do you want what you got? How about trying something different?'”
Governor of California
American politician in the California Senate
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