Chris Mann, founder and manager of the Inland Empire Taxpayers Association’s super PAC.

By Jeff Horseman | jhorseman@scng.com | The Press-Enterprise
Published: November 1, 2018 at 2:51 pm | Updated: November 1, 2018 at 11:44 pm

For Chris Mann, the June primary results in California’s 8th Congressional District played out perfectly, when two GOP candidates, incumbent Paul Cook and challenger Tim Donnelly, finished first and second.

It meant the 8th District would feature only GOP candidates on the Nov. 6 general election ballot, the only House race in deep blue California to feature zero Democrats.

How Mann helped orchestrate that outcome illustrates the way legal political gift giving can be used to one party’s advantage in California’s top-two “jungle” primary system.

Mann is founder and manager of the Inland Empire Taxpayers Association’s super PAC. Though his PAC favors conservative candidates and conservative ideals — and it officially backs 8th District incumbent Cook — it spent nearly $5,000, pre-June, on mailers aimed at boosting long-shot Democrat candidate, Rita Ramirez-Dean.

Mann’s group promoted Ramirez-Dean because it feared a different Democratic candidate, Marge Doyle. She was endorsed by the state Democratic Party and was a strong enough candidate that she eventually raised $421,000, more than Ramirez-Dean or any other Democrat in the district.
Rep. Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley (File photo).

By encouraging Democrats to vote for Ramirez-Dean, Mann’s PAC hoped to peel votes away from Doyle. And it wasn’t alone. Another association with no clear ties to Democrats, the Cooperative of American Physicians’ super PAC, spent more than $16,000 to support Ramirez-Dean.

The gamesmanship worked. Doyle finished third in the June primary, about 1,200 votes behind second-place finisher, former GOP assemblyman Tim Donnelly.

It’s hardly a Republicans-only strategy.

At about the same time that Mann’s PAC was spending to help a Democrat in the 8th, Democrat supporters in California’s 48th Congressional District, which includes much of the coastal area of Orange County, were spending money to boost the prospects of a lesser known Republican candidate. Their goal was to weaken the prospects of a Republican candidate considered more threatening, Scott Baugh.

The strategy worked there, too. Today, Democratic challenger Harley Rouda is viewed as even-money or better against long-time 48th Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in the general election.

In both cases, supporters of one party were able to work within the law to thwart the other party’s prospects.

Cook is strongly favored to beat Donnelly. Cook recently landed President Donald Trump’s endorsement, even after Donnelly accused him of not supporting Trump’s agenda. The congressman also beat all rivals in June, when he landed 41 percent of the vote.

Even if Doyle or another Democrat had survived the primary, the district — a vast stretch that includes the desert communities in San Bernardino County, and all of Inyo and Mono counties as well as Big Bear City, Crestline and Running Springs, among others — would be a tough win for a non-Republican. Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the 8th District by 15 points two years ago, and the GOP currently holds a 5-point district edge in voter registration.

Super PACs, also known as independent expenditure committees, can raise and spend unlimited amounts to support or oppose a congressional candidate, provided they don’t coordinate with a candidate’s campaign.

Mann said the association “believes, then and now, that Paul Cook is the right guy for the job … We felt Marge Doyle posed the greatest threat (to Cook) should she make it through. We wanted to encourage Democrats who were going to vote for Democrats to vote for (Ramirez-Dean).”
Former Democratic congressional candidate Rita Ramirez-Dean (File photo).

Ramirez-Dean, who is now running for Victorville City Council, ran for San Bernardino County superintendent of schools in 2010 and in the 31st Congressional District in 2012.

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