Essential Politics: The million-dollar men seeking to end a drought


Since I highlighted California’s 20-plus-year drought of having a Black congressman in November, two Black male candidates have neared or crossed the $1-million mark in fundraising.

Fundraising isn’t the only thing that matters in politics, but it certainly helps to have resources to, you know, pay staff, rent office and event space, travel across the district, print, purchase ads and send out communications to voters.

If people are willing to collectively donate $1 million to your campaign, it’s a sign that people believe in you and your candidacy. And if voters are willing to pour significant amounts of money into candidates, the least we can do in the media is give them a look.

Welcome to today’s Essential Politics newsletter. I’m Nolan D. McCaskill, a congressional reporter who will be giving you a look at the Black men running for Congress this cycle, including the pair of million-dollar men.

Who’s running?

Quaye Quartey is Democrats’ best chance to end the drought of Black male congressional representation in California. Quartey is a Ghanian American who served as an intelligence officer in the Navy and later as a military diplomat. He’s running against Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Santa Clarita) and third-time Democratic candidate Christy Smith in a majority-minority Los Angeles County district that’s 33% Latino, 11% Black and 10% Asian. The Cook Political Report rates the district a toss-up.

His biggest hurdle is Smith, a former state assemblymember who lost to Garcia in a special election and general election in 2020. Voters in the June 7 primary will determine whether they believe Quartey can win or that the third time is the charm for Smith.

Quartey said he’s been endorsed by the Congressional Black Caucus PAC, Ghana PAC and New Democrat Coalition Action Fund and has heard from several sitting members of Congress, including James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin), Katie Porter (D-Irvine), Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.).

He described himself in an interview as “a servant leader” and the “personification and embodiment of my grandfather’s dream for my father.” His grandfather sent his father to the U.S. from Africa in the 1970s in pursuit of the American dream.

Quartey highlighted voting rights, gun violence and immigration as the district’s top issues, and made the case that voters there are “looking for someone that can win.”

“Right now, I have a start-up mentality, and our mentality is we live quarter by quarter,” he said. “Being that this is the quarter with the primary on June 7, I can’t look past June 7 to think about anything else. So we’re focused on raising resources, we’re focused on communicating our message, we’re focused on getting out and meeting with the people and we’re focused on making sure that we have what it takes to represent this district in a way that hasn’t been done since Katie Hill won in 2018.”

Smith has raised nearly $930,000 this cycle, but Garcia’s almost $4 million haul dwarfs both Democrats’ campaigns combined.

The other million-dollar man is Dr. Kermit Jones, a doctor, attorney and former flight surgeon in the Navy who’s seeking an open seat in California’s 3rd District. Republican Assemblymember Kevin Kiley and Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones are also vying for the seat.

Jones and Kiley have both raised upwards of $1 million, but Kiley did so in his first quarter as a candidate.

A majority of the district is in Placer County, and the Cook Political Report rates it “likely Republican.” Republicans have an almost 30,000-voter advantage in registration over Democrats in the district, but there’s a sizable population of voters with no party preference that makes up a fifth of the electorate.

Jones’ said the district, which former President Trump won by less than 2 percentage points in 2020, is significantly rural and he cited inflation, jobs, fires and healthcare as voters’ top issues. He said he’s campaigned as a problem solver who’s willing to work across the aisle and has heard from Lee and Reps. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) and Marc Veasey (D-Texas), in addition to the Blue Dog Coalition and Problem Solvers Caucus.

One of his biggest struggles, he said, has been getting media attention for his campaign.

“I was having a conversation with someone about a month ago about how I had read about a candidate for Congress in the New York Times, and it was the first candidate for Congress I had read about,” Jones said. “You know why I read about her? I read about her because she had vomited in a garbage can at a little kid’s party.”

“I was kind of scratching my head, and I thought to myself, ‘That’s interesting,’” Jones recalled. “So I guess you’re worthy of being covered and actually get in the news if you kind of drop the ball on your campaign, but [not] if you’re trying to tell the American people this is why democracy matters, this is why it’s a participatory institution, this is why releasing the most comprehensive healthcare plan of anyone who’s ever run for Congress is important when we talk about healthcare.’”

Clickbait news coverage gets read, Jones lamented, but it doesn’t inspire people or motivate them to participate in politics.

Also running are Lourin Hubbard and Daniel Wayne Lee. Hubbard, an operations manager at the California Department of Water Resources, has raised $61,000 in the special election to succeed former Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare), who resigned in January to run Trump Media & Technology Group. The winner of the June 7 runoff against former Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway will only serve for about seven months. Come January, the seat will no longer exist.

Lee, the Culver City vice mayor and an Air Force veteran who has raised less than $50,000, is running to succeed Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), who is running for mayor of Los Angeles. Bass, Gov. Gavin Newsom and dozens of other federal, state and local leaders have endorsed state Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), who is favored to win the seat.

“Each of these candidates has very different prospects, just because of the district that they’re running in,” Tyler Law, a principal at AKPD Message and Media and a former national press secretary for House Democrats’ campaign arm, said of the Black men running this cycle. “This really runs the gamut from an extremely heavily Biden-won district to districts that Trump carried.”

“The [district] that jumps off the page is the new California 27th,” Law said. “This is a district that President Biden carried by a very wide margin. It’s a district that Democrats held recently, so it’s very winnable, even in a tough political environment for Democrats.”

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The latest from the campaign trail

Campaign finance reports were due Friday for the January through March fundraising period. The House Democratic and Republican fundraising groups both raised record sums in the first quarter, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee outraising the National Republican Congressional Committee by $11.5 million.

Here are the California delegation’s top fundraisers for the quarter:

1. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank): $3.69 million raised; $18.4 million cash on hand

Schiff chairs the House Intelligence Committee and sits on the Select Committee to Investigate the Attack on the U.S. Capitol.

2. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield): $3.685 million raised; $8.2 million cash on hand

McCarthy would likely become the next speaker of the House if Republicans win control of the chamber this fall.

3. Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine): $3.2 million raised; $17.8 million cash on hand

Porter is a frontliner, meaning she represents one of House Democrats’ most competitive seats. The second-term lawmaker is also deputy chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

4. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco): $2.8 million raised; $5.8 million cash on hand

Pelosi is seeking reelection, but this term in Congress could be her last.

5. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.): $1.3 million raised; $7.1 million cash on hand

Padilla was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to the seat Vice President Kamala Harris vacated in January. He is running to serve his first full six-year term.

Honorable mentions: Rep. Young Kim (R-La Habra) raised $957,000 with $3 million cash on hand, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) raised $793,000 with $4.8 million cash on hand and Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Santa Clarita) raised $767,000 with $1.8 million cash on hand.

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The view from Washington

—Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned world finance leaders that Russia’s war with Ukraine “touches the most vulnerable people the hardest — families that are already spending disproportionate amounts of their income on food.” She encouraged the fellow leaders to “get concrete” as they seek to combat a global food insecurity crisis, per the Associated Press.

—Vice President Kamala Harris said the U.S. would stop testing satellite-killing missiles to reduce the threat posed by space debris, Courtney Subramanian reports.

—Life in the Senate is “not as bad as it looks.” That’s a key takeaway from our columnist Mark Z. Barabak’s interview with Sen. Alex Padilla.

The view from California

—Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled an effort six weeks ago to push more people into court-ordered treatment for severe mental illness and addiction, but homeless advocates are calling the plan legally misguided and immoral, Hannah Wiley reports. Dozens of organizations and individuals have since signed a letter of opposition raising concerns.

—Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) may have a solution to L.A.’s affordable housing problem. She chatted with The Times about her bill to dedicate state funding to converting golf courses into housing.

—You won’t find perfect attendance on businessman Rick Caruso‘s record, at least not when it came to attending Los Angeles Police Commission meetings when he served on the volunteer panel two decades ago. James Rainey found that Caruso, who highlights his service on the commission as one of his top qualifications to become mayor of L.A., missed 53 of 139 meetings between 2001 and 2005.

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