August 31, 2009

On the Record With Chuck Devore
— Gabriel Malor

A week ago I wrote about the likely California primary contest between Carly Fiorina and state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore. They're going after Senator Barbara Boxer, whose numbers are looking pretty weak right now.

At the time, I didn't know much about DeVore (or Fiorina, for that matter). To remedy that, the Assemblyman was kind enough to go on the record and answer my questions.

The interview is lengthy, so I've cut it into three parts. The first part, in which we talk about DeVore's campaign strategy, current polls, and Carly Fiorina, is below the fold. In the second and third parts we actually get into the issues—California and national issues, respectively. Those will go up tomorrow and Wednesday.

Update: The second part of the interview is here.
The third part of the interview is here.


Gabriel Malor: Good afternoon, Assemblyman, it’s good to talk to you.

Chuck DeVore: Don’t call me “Assemblyman”—I used to work for a living and I deserve more respect than that. [Laughs.] In a play, of course on Boxer’s bit in front of the general.

Absolutely. So you’re not opposed if someone refers to you as “sir”?

You know, I refer to everyone else as “sir” and “ma’am” because that’s the way I was raised. And the way the drill sergeant would make me drop and beat my face into the ground if I didn’t do it properly in military training, so...

My parents were the same way.

So I still do that. So, good to catch up with you.

I very much appreciate you talking with me. If you know anything at all about the blog you know we have about 100,000 daily unique readers. We’re a very popular conservative blog and we’re all very interested in retaking seats in 2010.

As well you should be.

So let’s get right down to it. I understand you have a very exacting schedule and that you’ve been splitting your time between Sacramento and campaigning. Where have you been lately and how’s it going?

Well, I just came back from Lake Arrowhead, where I gave a speech to seven different Republican women’s federated clubs. It was—gosh, I need to look it up—I think it was my 122 speech since I started campaigning. I actually lost track of them a couple weeks ago and I had to get back to my matrix to see where we were. I tweeted it out just before I left.

Yes, 122—123, actually. 122 was last night. I’ve got another one tomorrow and another one Sunday. So that will be my 124th and 125th.

That’s a lot of work. Have you noticed, is there a difference—in terms of your constituency back in the 70th and people in the rest of the state—are people interested in the same issues wherever you go?

Well, there are variations. First of all, because of California’s crushing unemployment rate, made worse because of our witches’ brew of, of really if you combine our regulatory burden with our tax burden we’re the worst in the country according to Forbes. So that is the overriding concern everywhere you go.

But, if you’re in Central California water is always a concern. Finessing the problem with immigration such that when we fix the borders that we have an adequate guest worker program—that’s obviously a big issue with the agricultural heartland of California.

When you get down to Southern California, again illegal immigration is a concern, but less so on the guest worker front because, of course, they’re not dependent on that form of labor in Southern California as much as they are in the Central Valley. Water is often a concern, but not as urgent.

But, pretty much everywhere you go it’s about tax and regulatory burdens, trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. And, what I’ve noticed, since I started doing this in—y’know I declared very early, just after the November elections.

Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that. Why so early?

Well, I’ll get to that. But to finish this thought, my first official speech on the campaign trail was on the seventeenth of November. And so, at that speech and the ones shortly afterward, what I found was growing urgency as people began to understand what Obama was doing and the Democrats and the national-level Congress were doing— such that the crowds just kept growing and growing and growing.

And now that I’ve been doing this long enough, organizers of events tell me that it’s the biggest crowds they’ve ever had for a speaker. And they attribute it universally in equal measures between the urgency because of the President and because of the word of mouth about my candidacy.

Related to that, I’m sure you saw the March 2009 Field Poll which asked California voters about possible challengers to Senator Boxer. And they asked about three possible Republicans: you, of course; Ms. Fiorina; and Governor Schwarzenegger. Now, in that poll 93% were able to express an opinion—either good or bad—about the Governor. 41% were able to rate Ms. Fiorina. But only 18% had an opinion about you. So what are you doing to change that?

Well, have you seen the Daily Kos-sponsored poll that came out a week and a half ago that also went into that level of detail? You need to. Because what you’ll see in that poll, which was taken about two weeks ago now, which then had the benefit of another six months, seven months of diligence— what you found was that among Republicans Fiorina’s name was up to somewhere around 46%. Where was she with the Field?—

She was at 41% in March.

So it was about 46%. And mine was, I think 42%. Just a few points behind her. If not 42, then 43. And my positive-to-negative ratio at least among all voters was slightly better than hers, although certainly within the statistical ability of the poll.

And so what that shows me is that I’ve more than doubled my name ID through the work that we’ve been doing. Obviously when you’re buying ten million banner impressions at a time and you’re on talk radio excessively, including the most popular talk radio show in the State of California: John and Ken Show on KFI. I was on that show in the last week-and-a-half five times. The last time I was on for half an hour, which if you look at the equivalent earned media value of that on that show given they have a million listeners, it’s about $80,000.

And so, I would maintain that our strategy of leveraging the fact that as a lawmaker I can generate earned media and as someone who is pretty good on the radio and has something to say, I am a frequent guest. This is a tool that I’m very comfortable with and that I’ve been using quite frequently all over the state. I think it’s had its effect as evidenced by that poll that I highly commend to you.

Definitely, I will check it out. [Editor's Note: The results of the Daily Kos poll referenced by the Assemblyman are here.]

So, yeah, there’s that and then all these appearances. There has been a fair amount of word-of-mouth that has been generated by the fact that we’ve gotten in front of about 22,000 people now just through basic retail, the day-by-day politics. We’ve managed to sell 2000 bumper stickers and when you sell them they typically go on cars and the algorithm for bumper stickers that actually get put on cars is they’re worth about $200 bucks a piece in advertising when they actually go on the car.

Well I have to say, I was at a BBQ a few weekends ago and your name came up. So some people seem to know who you are. But my question is—it’s got to be frustrating—Ms. Fiornia, she’s kind of an outsider to California politics. She comes in with some name recognition because of the election last year. Do you think it’s going to be a tough primary?

I’m looking forward to it. Frankly, I think that her entrance into the race will greatly enhance my likelihood of being able to beat Boxer. Without her in the race, the race will not attract nearly as much national attention, nor will it attract as much attention even within Republican ranks.

With her in the race—I belive she’s got some pretty glaring weaknesses. As someone who has never run for office herself before, she’s going to get a very rapid awakening to political process. And, y’know, in my own case having been vetted before in a very tough election five years ago, where I was outspent a million dollars to half a million and won by 20 points… I had the kitchen sink thrown at me. Y’know, I certainly know what it’s like and I’ve already been through that process.

I believe that her imminent entrance into the race is a great sign for the Republican Party of California and it boosts my chances of winning in the general because if I beat her in the primary—as I fully expect to—that’s going to be a national news story. Whereas, if it was just me and a few also-rans, no one would be paying attention at all.

It’s clear that you’re in it. My understanding is she’s opened an exploratory committee. Is she actually in this yet?

We are hearing numerous indications through our intelligence network that she is accreting staff. She’s hired Fred Davis, the guy that made the Barack Obama celebrity of the world ad. She’s hired Marty Wilson, who was Schwarzenegger’s big fundraiser for many years and Ben Miller, who works with Marty Wilson.

The challenge, of course, that folks like Wilson are going to have is that the donation limit for governor is about eleven times what it is for U.S. Senate and you can take corporate money. So the dynamics for raising money for the Senate are dramatically different than they are for raising money for a guy with 99.9 percent name ID with certainly, unarguably Hollywood star appeal. It’s very different.

What we’ve found with Carly Fiorina is that the average rank-and-file Republican has kind of a vague recollection of her. She’s well-known within the high-tech community—not entirely positively, I might add.

Because of the HP thing—

Exactly. And known within Republican activist circles—again not entirely positively—because she was exiled from the latter days of the McCain campaign for having made a series of gaffes. So, certainly there is a segment in D.C. that thinks she’s great and is under the misapprehension that she’s going to bring all this money to the race from her own wallet and that she’s going to apply star power and get out there and win.

What I’m finding among the grassroots is that most of the folks that I’m speaking to have no clue who she is and are wanting to hear from her and to understand what her views are and maybe have her come out and speak to them.

That’s why—to follow up on your question from much earlier—that’s why I started this campaign shortly after the election. I knew, being a non-billionaire, non-celebrity who has an established record and is very comfortable speaking with large or small crowds or on talk radio or whatever that what I needed to do was get out there and let people know what I believe and where I thought we need to move the state and to listen to them and their concerns and to invite them to join our campaign. Because I knew that every day that went by was an opportunity. If I got in front of a few people and got a few of those folks to sign up to our campaign and sign up on Twitter or Facebook or on my website that once I started to communicate with them I’d be able to get their support. That’s why we have over 12,000 donors now to our campaign.

This is the campaign that I believe—the state of technology today, now that the Internet has had a chance to mature since Al Gore invented it—we can really leverage technology in a way that allows for an efficiently-run grassroots campaign in a way that was not possible fifteen years ago when you had rolodexes and telephones and really couldn’t do the sort of networking that you can now accomplish.

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