Brian Daley, the far-reaching GOP hopeful to oust Governor Gavin Newsom in California, knows that to win his progressive state, he can’t allow Democrats to brand him an election-denying, abortion-hateful, gun-loving, truly stylized-wing.
That’s why Dahley, a friendly farmer and senator from the sparsely populated northeastern corner of the state, does his best to make one thing clear: “I’m not a crazy Republican. I’m a sane person.”
Whether voters think it’s what he says rather than how Democrats portray him will determine how Dahl does against Newsom, a Democrat in his first term and favorite in November.
Republicans have not won a statewide office in California since 2006 because their candidates are generally unknown, underfunded, and identified – rightly or wrongly – as strong social conservatives in a socially liberal state. The Republican Party has seen its share of registered voters shrink to the point where Democrats now have a roughly 2-to-1 advantage and there are nearly as many independents as Republicans.
Under California’s primary system, all candidates compete against each other and the two candidates with the most votes advance to the general election. Newsom won last month with 56%, while Dahle took just 17% in a field with more than two dozen nominees.
With Dahl locking up their opponent, Newsom’s campaign moved quickly to identify him as the antithesis of what most Californians would like.
Newsom campaign spokesperson Nathan Click said, “Dahley is a Republican on Trump who wants to repeal abortion rights, repeal California gun safety laws, and is looking for any relevant iota after Governor Newsom utterly crushed him in ( Voting (basic).
Dahl admits to voting for Trump, calls himself a “pro-life” and says he’s a staunch advocate of the Second Amendment. But he says his record is more accurate than the Newsom campaign claims.
While he voted for Trump, he didn’t publicly amplify Trump’s lie that he was the legitimate winner of the 2020 presidential election. He voted against a proposal to make abortion a constitutional right in California, but he opposed his own party and voted for a 2021 bill that would have made contraceptives – including So pills – much cheaper.
Regarding guns, Dahl voted against a bill backed by Newsom to allow private citizens to sue people who sell illegal firearms and a bill that would ban the marketing of guns to children. Dahli’s office did not comment on a new bill aimed at defining places where people could carry concealed firearms, in response to the US Supreme Court last month by striking down the state law.
He wants to make gun theft a felony, and supports reinforcements for gang members and other former inmates who have committed new crimes using guns. And he voted for a bill to promote a unique program in California that seizes guns from convicted criminals who shouldn’t own them.
His plan to beat Newsom is to focus on what he believes are the real problems people care about — record-high gas prices, rising crime and the rising cost of living in the state — while portraying Newsom, a millionaire businessman and former mayor of San Francisco, as an elitist elitist.
“The facts (Newsom) are a failure. Show me something that works. And that’s what we’re going to talk about,” Dahley said.
As governor, Dahlley said he would pay to suspend the state’s gas tax, which at 53.9 cents a gallon is the second-highest in the country. He says he will cancel Newsom’s appointments to the state’s parole board, which he says often let “violent offenders out before their sentences expire.”
Daley said he will push for hundreds of new permits to explore for oil and gas in the state as California regulators work on Newsom’s plan to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars and lawn equipment.
Newsom won in 2018 with about 62% of the vote. He defeated last year’s recall by the same margin. He has $23 million in his campaign account and a record state budget surplus of nearly $100 billion, of which about $9.5 billion will be returned to most taxpayers in deductions to help offset higher gas prices.
Dahl has just under $400,000 in his campaign account. He’s asking his supporters to donate $1 a day to his campaign. It needs about 200,000 people to do this in order to catch up with Newsom’s fundraising — which is unlikely to happen.
“The key to his success lies in garnering the necessary media attention in order to define himself beyond the party nomenclature,” said Rob Nahring, former chair of the California Republican Party and Republican nominee for governor. “If this is just a vote of party favor even in a strong Republican year, it will probably fail.”
Dahl grew up in Pepper, a small community of a few hundred people in the northeastern corner of the state. His grandfather, a World War I veteran, came to California during the Great Depression and was awarded a Siskiyou County land grant that he won, according to family legend, when his name was pulled from a pickle jar. Daley said the contract was signed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Dahl did not go to college. He tried farming from high school, but soon lost money. To repay his creditors, he would pack a lunch and stand outside a lumber mill every morning for three days until the owner hired him. He worked in construction for a few years, including some long hours in a gold mine, before starting a seed business that he still owned.
He won his first race on the Lassen County Board of Supervisors by defeating a famous teacher from the town of Susanville, where most voters live. He won a seat in the state assembly by defeating Rick Busiti, a former professional baseball player and mayor of Redding, the largest city in the area with a population of about 90,000.
He was elected to the state Senate by defeating Kevin Kelly, a fellow Republican in the Assembly who lived in a densely populated area.
“He did the things that needed to be done and surprised his opponents,” said Jim Chapman, a Democrat-turned-independence who served on the Board of Supervisors with Dahley. “He has a very charismatic demeanor and immediately, from the moment I met him, I knew this guy was going somewhere.”
Government life seemed to suit Dahli and his family. He proposed to his wife Megan during a supervisors meeting. Now, Megan is a Republican in the State Assembly. They are like most couples, except when they disagree it can be part of a public record.
“I just teased him and told him, OK, maybe he was wrong,” Megan Daley said of the times they’ve voted differently on the legislation. “He is a farmer, so he works hard and has great relationships with people. They can trust him.”
When he arrived in Sacramento, Dahl loved his legislators in both parties by hosting tours of his area, which include picturesque farmlands in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada. In 2016, he worked with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to pass a law designed to prevent patients from receiving surprise bills from health care providers outside their insurance network.
Last year’s impeachment election essentially cleared the Republican field this year, with none of the top candidates choosing to challenge Newsom again. This created an opportunity for Dahlé, who will be elected from the Senate in 2024. He knows that his success depends on a sudden political reversal in a country that has been moving more to the left with each election.
“I have seen the pendulum swing, and when it swings, it swings fast,” Dahley said. So my message is, ‘Hey, do you want what you’ve been getting? How about trying something different? “