Updated June 7, 11:04 a.m. | The debacle over former Rep. Joe Baca’s announced endorsements continued Thursday, when four local leaders declined to support the Democrat’s candidacy for California’s 31st District anymore.
Baca touted these four local leaders on a lengthy endorsement sheet a few weeks back. But now they’re backing one of Baca’s Democratic challengers, lawyer Eloise Gomez Reyes, according to an endorsement announcement provided exclusively to CQ Roll Call by her campaign.
The defectors include former Baca staffer and community college trustee Jess Vizcaino, Inland Empire Utilities Agency Director Angel Santiago, and local businessmen Gary Liaou and Leno Moreno.
“I saw them on his list and I called them because they have endorsed me,” Reyes said in a Thursday phone interview. “And there’s no question that they have been supporters of Joe’s in the past, but they are supporting me. Many of us have supported Joe in the past, but it is time for something different, a fresh perspective in Washington.”
In an interview with CQ Roll Call, Baca called Reyes’ endorsement release an attempt to mischaracterize him and attack his integrity.
Baca said that Moreno endorsed him over Reyes, and that the other claimed endorsed defectors gave dual endorsements.
“Leno Moreno has endorsed me and is supporting me and has not endorsed her,” Baca said. “The others gave dual endorsements. That’s a difference between withdrawing the endorsement and giving a dual endorsement. She’s an attorney so she plays with words.”
Moreno, who has owned a local Mexican restaurant in the district for 25 years, says that Reyes is a close friend, but he is endorsing Baca.
“Eloise Gomez Reyes is a personal friend of mine, and when she told me she was running for Congress I told her good luck, but we are only endorsing Congressman Baca,” Moreno said.
This latest endorsement spat comes a week after three House Democrats — Assistant Minority Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, Terri A. Sewell of Alabama and Tim Walz of Minnesota — also disputed Baca’s stated support from them. Clyburn, Sewell and Walz have since reneged their support for Baca’s comeback bid.
The kerfuffle stands to hurt Democrats’ chances of picking up this highly targeted seat. Although the 31st District is prime Democratic territory, GOP Rep. Gary G. Miller holds the seat. Miller won the redrawn district in 2012, when four Democratic candidates splintered the vote in California’s new top-two jungle primary, sending Miller and another Republican to the general.
To prevent such a situation from happening again, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee backed Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar early on in the contest — likely an effort to keep other Democratic candidates from entering the contest.
But their efforts failed; Aguilar is now battling Baca, local school board official Danny Tillman and Reyes, who is poised to receive the support of EMILY’s List.