‘This is the weirdest race in the country’

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Calif. — Gil Cisneros and Andy Thorburn, two millionaire Democratic candidates for a battleground House district in Southern California, had been attacking each other so ruthlessly that party leaders encouraged them to meet at an Italian restaurant in Los Angeles last month to force a truce: Play nice, or risk forfeiting a top district to Republicans.

The armistice, brokered by California Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, altered the course of one of the stranger primaries of 2018, replete with party meddling and nasty attacks but few policy differences. Looming above it all is the possibility that two Republicans will advance to the general election to replace Republican Rep. Ed Royce in a district Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.

The Orange County-based seat tops the nationwide list of Democratic targets, but it became the site of an early, multimillion-dollar rescue operation when it became clear the wide field of Democrats could split their vote enough to land a pair of Republicans atop the all-party primary on Tuesday. And Democrats also worry that the previous weeks of intraparty attacks  allegations ranging from party disloyalty to tax evasion to a threatening voicemail later decried as a fake  will send a potential nominee limping into the general election.

“This is the weirdest race in the country that’s attracted Democrats of all stripes and an unprecedented amount of money,” said candidate Sam Jammal, a former Obama administration official and one of the four Democrats running. “But all the negativity doesn’t help us because we’re still just beginning to build the Democratic brand here.”

The race is also the most expensive in the state so far, drawing about $10 million in spending. The DCCC has dropped $2 million alone, attacking Republican candidates and boosting Cisneros, a lottery winner who picked up the DCCC’s endorsement in April. Cisneros and Thorburn dumped more than $6 million of their own money into the race — among the highest self-funding efforts in 2018. On the Republican side, Assemblywoman Young Kim has separated herself from the pack in fundraising and some internal polling, followed by Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson and former state Sen. Bob Huff.

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