QAnon and red baiting: California midterm races turn vitriolic | 2022 US Midterm Elections
In Orange County, California, Republican Congresswoman Michelle Steel is running ads using doctored images to portray her Democratic opponent Jay Chen as sympathetic to Communist China. In Los Angeles, incumbent Democratic Rep. Jimmy Gomez sent fliers accusing his progressive challenger David Kim of “campaigning with the support of QAnon.”
In several Golden State congressional districts, the tight races of the past few weeks have turned vitriolic.
The tension reflects the fierce battle between the Democrats and Republicans for control of the House, a fight in which California is key: Although the state as a whole leans blue, up to 10 congressional seats are up for grabs here. But even in races with two Democrats, clashes over what it means to be progressive have turned resentful.
“California is often considered a fait accompli for Democrats, not a battleground,” said Pei-Te Lien, a political science professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “But when you look at the congressional elections here, it’s controversial.”
In the rural and industrial outskirts of Los Angeles, the race between Republican incumbent David Valadao and Democrat Rudy Salas has become the second most expensive home race in the country. Also in Southern California, Democratic Rep. Katie Porter is neck and neck with Republican challenger Scott Baugh, who ran misleading campaign ads saying Porter voted to hire thousands of new IRS agents to to attack medium-sized families and small businesses.
In a rural district spanning much of the state’s eastern border, Republican Kevin Kiley has falsely accused his Democratic opponent Kermit Jones of wanting to ‘defund the police’ – adopting a tactic Republicans around the country are using in increased context. voter concern on crime.
But the races between Steel and Chen, and Gomez and Kim have proven to be particularly spiteful.
Steel, one of the first Korean American women elected to Congress, is running in a newly formed district that brings together voters of Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and Indian descent to give a greater voice to Asian Americans. But his campaign embraced what many Asian American groups called “red-baiting” messages, exploiting many immigrant voters’ distrust of communism.
In Vietnamese and English letters, doctored images show Chen holding the Communist Manifesto while teaching a class full of children. A TV ad features actors playing Chinese Communist Party intelligence officers, claiming Chen is “one of us, a fellow socialist who even backed Bernie Sanders as supreme leader.”
Chen, a Navy veteran, called the portrayal absurd. “My grandmother fled communist China for Taiwan,” he said. “By suggesting that I am a fellow CCP socialist, Michelle Steel is not only playing dirty politics by questioning my patriotism, she is playing into harmful stereotypes, fueling anti-Asian hatred.
Lance Tover, spokesperson for Steel, highlighted his record in condemning anti-Asian hatred, including his speech to Congress testimony on the increase in hate crimes against the Asian American community.
Steel’s accusation ties Chen to communism in a 2010 vote he took as a member of the local school board to use a free Mandarin language program that ultimately didn’t pass. In the years that followed, the program drew attention to its connection to the Chinese government.
Lien, who specializes in Asian-American politics, said if Steel’s portrayal of Chen could help win over Vietnamese American voters who fled communism and came to the United States as refugees, the strategy could turn against him. “Ultimately, Steel hurts the Asian American image as a whole,” Lien said, opening himself and others to stereotypes about being perpetual outsiders. “Given her own experience as a Korean American immigrant, I was very discouraged to know that she would use this attack against another Asian American.”
Steel dismissed her own accusations of racism, saying Chen made fun of her accent when he said people needed “an interpreter to understand exactly what she’s saying.” Chen said he was referring to his “convoluted” talking points and wouldn’t think to poke fun at the accents considering he grew up in an immigrant household where family members were victimized. discrimination because of the way they spoke.
Although home races in California have often been competitive and corresponding campaign messaging often aggressive, attacks in recent years have stood out in that they have focused on ideology and identity, Link said.
In a very different California race between Gomez and Kim, both progressive Democrats looking to win in a predominantly Latino blue neighborhood — Gomez sent out mail juxtaposing Kim with images of the Jan. 6 rioters and Donald Trump.
The accusation of running with far-right QAnon support refers to the 2020 race when Gomez and Kim last faced off, and Kim had asked the losing primary candidates for their support. Among them, it turned out that Republican Joanne Wright attributed to QAnon conspiracy theories.
Steve Barkan, a consultant for Gomez, said Kim “aligned with QAnon leader Joanne Wright” when he accepted her endorsement, “even after learning about her right-wing extremist views and theories of conspiracy”.
Kim said he was unaware of Wright’s views at the time. If he had known about Wright’s support for QAnon, he would not have accepted his endorsement, Kim said. But to accuse him of embracing the far right for a two-year oversight is cynical, Kim said. “It’s going very low.”
Kim said he hopes campaigns can focus on the real differences between him and Gomez, which come down to how each would deal with economic inequality and, ultimately, how they would approach governance.
In an increasingly divided political climate, Lien said ideology-based attacks have become more common, in California and across the country. “There’s a Trump effect happening,” Lien said – referring to the former president’s entry into a new era of hyper-partisan politics.
“Very, very tight races can easily turn negative,” she said, and it reflects national polarization.