Amid the bluster and noise of election season, and with Nov. 6 approaching like a bullet train, Newport Beach businessman Bob Rush managed to find some quiet.
"In a nutshell, everybody's quiet," he said earlier this month. "I think everybody's been burned out from the primary."
Rush is a Democratic candidate for the 74th Assembly District, running against current 68th District Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, a Costa Mesa Republican who was redistricted into the 74th. The GOP-heavy territory serves Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Irvine, Laguna Beach, Laguna Woods and Huntington Beach.
Rush surprised political observers by knocking out Newport Councilwoman Leslie Daigle, a Republican, in the new "top-two" primary system. Rush took 32.8% of the vote to Daigle's 23.8%. Mansoor, benefiting from the name recognition that comes with incumbency, grabbed 43.5%.
After the primary, Rush spent a few months largely under the political radar. He said he took a break for most of June and July. In mid-August, the sudden death of his fiancee's brother kept Rush off the campaign for a few more weeks, just as his "whole media blitz" was supposed to start.
"[The campaign] has been moving along," he said, although, "it was not quite the explosion that we wanted."
Daigle has questioned the sincerity of Rush's campaign since the beginning, calling it a sham aimed at handing the highly conservative Mansoor a victory.
"Bob Rush is the unhappiest person in Newport Beach, and a gadfly whose candidacy was never serious, never constructive and a mockery of the election process," she wrote in an email.
Rush, a commercial real estate broker, has never held public office. He made something of a name for himself in the political arena as a Newport council critic, with a particular focus on the city's handling of recovery homes. He's also been active in the West Newport Assn. Recently, Rush has opposed Newport Beach's Measure EE, which would make a series of amendment's to Newport's city charter.
A fiscal conservative and social progressive, he's been criticized for changing his voter registration from "decline to state" to Democratic shortly before the campaign and admitted in a candidates forum to voting for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the last presidential election.
Centrist who can compromise
Rush's campaign was largely financed by a personal loan of about $100,000. His campaign manager, former Laguna Beach Mayor Paul Freeman, said the local Democratic establishment has "missed an opportunity" by not investing much in the race.
"I think in the primary, people could discount [Rush's] chances, because he was brand new and it's a significantly Republican district," Freeman said. But, he said, after Rush's strong primary showing, "why the party leadership has not rushed to embrace this guy is beyond me."
Rush says his status as a centrist focusing on fiscal responsibility would allow him to compromise with Democrats in a way a Republican occupying the seat wouldn't.
While the Orange County Democratic Party's website lists Rush for the group's official 74th District endorsement, Chairman Frank Barbaro said he's been more focused on other local races.
Although he wasn't in town for the 74th District endorsement discussions, he said, "I can't think of a tougher race in Orange County for a Democrat."
"We're hopeful we'll do well against Mansoor," Barbaro said. "I think Mansoor has been his own worst enemy over the years, but he has the registration."
He said Mansoor may have hurt himself with his involvement in Costa Mesa's divisive Measure V, which would establish a city charter.
Mansoor, for his part, seems to have reserved his sharpest barbs for Daigle, a more moderate Republican, rather than Rush. The top story on his campaign website is one from June debunking "Leslie Daigle's Bogus Claims."
Of Rush's primary performance he said: "Bob ran a very spirited campaign, and he participated in all the debates, and he took the race very seriously."
Neither Mansoor nor Rush could give a specific accounting of how many events or forums they'd attended.
Mansoor said his own level of campaigning hasn't lightened since the primary.
"I go to community events every day — not only in Costa Mesa but in new parts of the district, like Huntington Beach," he said. "Every weekend I'm out walking precincts to say hi to people."
Mansoor said he held a campaign fundraiser Thursday. Friday, he said it was "very successful," but he did not yet have fundraising totals available.
At an intimate Huntington Beach Chamber of Commerce candidate reception earlier this month, Rush said he hasn't been walking precincts, though Freeman said they had a corps of "about 20 walking in different cities."
"It's not a career politician machine that we have here," Rush added.
From July 1 to Oct. 20, Rush's campaign spent about $8,467, according to the California Secretary of State's Office website. From Jan.1 to Oct. 20, his campaign spent $85,756 in sum.
That means just under 10% of his campaign spending has been done in the two most recently reported periods (after June) and that Rush's campaign spent upward of $77,000 in the run-up to the primary.
Mansoor's campaign, meanwhile, has spent about $61,607 from July 1 to Oct. 20, and $274,834 total since January, meaning he spent about 22% after the primary. That also means he spent about $213,000 from the beginning of the year through June.
Daigle, according to the website, spent about $157,000 from January until the end of June.
Expenditures include things, such as like consulting and legal and filing fees, campaign literature and office expenses.
"The primary was a tough battle," Mansoor said. "But I'm still taking November seriously."
Not taking it for granted
Mansoor, who was well-known in the area as an eight-year Costa Mesa councilman, added that he's confident, but not taking a win for granted.
Mansoor said at the Huntington Beach candidate reception things are "definitely not winding down. Things heat up as it gets closer to Election Day."
Daigle contends that Rush's campaign seems to be doing the opposite, which doesn't much help his case that he's taking the race seriously.
"I think any energized candidate would be sending mail, would be walking precincts, would have a full calendar of events, a cadre of volunteers," Daigle said. "Those are among the activities that are normally done during campaigns."
Rush is adamant he's in it to win it.
"I viewed the race in this 74th Assembly District as primarily against Daigle in the first stage and Mansoor in the second stage," he said. "I'm not in here as a spoiler. I came in to spoil the dreams of both Daigle and Mansoor."
He added that he sees Daigle as having "a significant amount of professional and personal baggage," and that Daigle was the weaker of his two opponents.
Rush said he's still trying to get out to venues and garner support, but without much emphasis on signage and precinct-walking.
On Oct. 17, and Oct. 16 news release said, local philanthropist James "Walkie" Ray held a fundraiser for Rush at Newport's Pacific Club.
Ray said he was approached by Freeman, with whom he'd worked in the past, about holding the event.
He said he hadn't met Rush before the fundraiser, but as a "right-leaning Democrat," Ray said he's happy to "support Democrats who are a decent alternative."
Ray said he had to leave part of the way through the event for another engagement, but he understood just under a dozen people turned out. Freeman said amounts raised were "under $10,000," however, the event was also a "friend-raiser."
Part of the campaign's strategy in upcoming weeks, he said, involves meeting privately with big-ticket donors and sending a mailer out to at least 43,000 (depending on fundraising success) households "that we think are swing voters."
Rush said he's also reached out to Mansoor to hold head-to-head debates since the primary, but Mansoor hasn't accepted.
Rush added that many local groups that might stage debates "got so revved up" for the primary, that they've felt there's no new ground to cover.
Mansoor said he may have received Rush's invitations, but that he's had scheduling conflicts.
"You can only go so far," Rush said at the Huntington Beach reception. "We can't say it's the 'Bob Rush' venue."
"At this point, it's getting the message out."