Assemblyman Travis Allen was having one heck of a week.
One of three California Republicans running for governor, Allen reported last week that he finished the year with $135,535 in his campaign account, far less than fellow Republican John Cox, and three of their Democratic challengers. The report also showed his campaign had $342,850 in unpaid debts.
On Friday, Allen was named in in the Legislature’s release of sexual harassment investigative records. Allen, who the documents show was given a verbal warning but not disciplined in 2013, was accused of sliding his foot over to touch a female employee, and coming up behind her in the cafeteria to squeeze her shoulders. While Allen strongly disputes that what he did was inappropriate, the political fallout was swift. Republican Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, the author of a long-stalled whistleblower protection bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, informed Allen that she was pulling her support.
“I have no choice but to withdraw my endorsement of his candidacy,” Melendez told reporters after reviewing the claims.
Allen, in an interview Wednesday, said he was undaunted by the potential setbacks. He spoke with The Bee as he planned a “major” rally Sunday at the state Capitol. He’s expecting thousands to attend.
“It’s important the people of California understand that the Capitol and state belong to them,” Allen said, “not the Bay Area coastal elite politicians that have been running the state into the ground.”
Reflecting on the past week, Allen again dismissed the release of the harassment records as a “political attack,” a point Democratic leaders refute. He said he heard there’s more dirt on others that wasn’t released.
“Clearly this was a political attack and it shows that we are having success and my message is resonating with Californians,” Allen said.
He also cast his fundraising haul – $447,236 in 2017 – as a “huge win,” and noted that Cox has padded his campaign with $4 million of his own money. Allen said some of his reported debts went to pay for 13 million slate mailers he’s planning to send to voters.
Experts believe his enthusiasm is not without basis. Public polls for the June primary showed him in a virtual tie with Cox, but trailing Democratic former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for a spot in the November runoff. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has led consistently in fundraising and polling since early 2015.
Republican strategist Kevin Spillane, who is not involved with any of the candidates, said he’s reviewed private polling on the race showing Allen’s message as the most resonant with GOP voters. Allen is sharply critical of Brown, Newsom and California Democratic leaders, tying the state’s high taxes and poverty rates to the dominant party. He’s also come out strong against illegal immigration.
Whether voters in large numbers are made aware of the harassment claims before the primary is largely up to his opponents. Cox and Republican former Rep. Doug Ose, who have access to money, have yet to spend anything on attacks. Neither of Allen’s challengers took an opening to directly hit him over the harassment records on Tuesday at a Republican-only debate.
“It’s a very fluid and unsettled situation,” Spillane said. “There’s potential for each of the three candidates to emerge and become the leading Republican.”
That’s largely owed to the lack of a clear GOP front-runner, and early stumbles by the other candidates.
On Tuesday, Cox learned that he would not qualify for the fall ballot his dramatic bid to remake the Legislature by adding 12,000 elected officials, after spending nearly $2.4 million of his own money. He ran several times before for public office, including for the U.S. Senate in Illinois and for president of the United States. But Cox is also the first up with a TV ad and radio spots touting his campaign.
Ose, who came to the race late and participated in his first media debate this week, is more of a mystery. On Tuesday, he sought to poke holes in Allen’s experience and ability to work across the aisle.
“I haven’t spent six years in the Legislature doing nothing, and didn’t move here from Illinois without knowledge of California,” Ose said in a swipe at Allen and Cox. “I know the rules. Democrats do not want to see me on the ballot. I intend to be the governor and, Travis, I’ll invite you to my reception.”
Some observers suggest it will be difficult for Allen to get traction. Jason Roe, a GOP strategist, noted the race is overshadowed by the Democratic field, which includes Treasurer John Chiang and former state schools chief Delaine Eastin, and that Cox and Ose have significantly more resources available.
“In a more traditional primary process, he’d stand a good chance,” Roe said. “But this disastrous open primary system dooms him.”
Allen, in the interview, went on offense. He jabbed at Ose as “washed up” and “a failed politician,” pointing to his congressional losses after he returned home over a self-imposed three-term limit.
“He can’t beat Democrats. And he can’t beat Republicans,” Allen said. “Doug Ose is a head fake, and he’ll be out of this race long before June. He has no support – and even less energy.”
Allen mocked Cox’s idea to install 12,000 elected officials. While the measure won’t be on the ballot, neither will an Allen-sponsored gas tax repeal, for which he failed to submit signatures. Both of the Republicans have signed on with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association to support a different gas tax repeal aiming for November.
Allen also predicted he will win the Republican Party endorsement in May and have the resources to tell GOP voters about it.
“The voters see through these political attacks and the misdirection, and they understand there is only one Republican that can beat Gavin Newsom,” he said.
Rob Bernosky, regional vice chairman of the state Republican Party representing the Central Coast, said Allen’s financial and other hardships don’t detract from the fact that he’s the lone GOP candidate who can excite the base. “He has a very uphill battle to go, but if you’ve seen Travis Allen at any campaign events, he gets the crowd going,” Bernosky said.
Bernosky also was unmoved by the 2013 harassment allegations against Allen.
“It doesn’t cause me to discount Travis at all,” he added, suggesting the candidates should meet and work out a deal for only one to run. “I personally just want one of our three candidates to end up in the top two.”