Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Online Extra: Political Notes: Gay GOPer in WeHo runs for Assembly


Gay GOP Assembly candidate Brad Torgan is hoping to finish in the top two in June, where he could play the role of spoiler in the race. (Photo: Courtesy Torgan for Assembly campaign)
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The entrance of gay West Hollywood Republican Brad Torgan into the hotly contested state Assembly race in the 50th District has some speculating that the GOPer could nab second place in the June primary.

Three Democrats have been angling for the newly drawn seat that includes the gay enclave next to Los Angeles and the coastal town of Santa Monica. Lesbian LGBT activist Torie Osborn and Richard Bloom, Santa Monica's mayor, are trying to unseat Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-Marina Del Rey).

A small slice of Butler's current 53rd Assembly District falls within the boundaries of the newly drawn 50th District. But the straight LGBT ally had to move in order to run for the seat, and her opponents have challenged her status as the incumbent.

Conventional wisdom has suggested Butler and Osborn would survive the June primary and battle it out in the November general election for the seat. The two women have drawn considerable political backing, and Osborn has proven to be a formidable campaigner and fundraiser.

But with the change in rules governing the primary process, where now the top two finishers regardless of party affiliation advance to the general election, some are wondering if the three-way-race among Democrats gives Torgan, the sole Republican in the race, a chance to survive the primary.

A heated Republican presidential primary battle could work in his favor, particularly if none of the candidates emerges as the clear frontrunner following Super Tuesday next week on March 6. It has the potential to put California into play in the GOP contest and could mean significant Republican turnout for the Golden State's June 5 primary.

"Absolutely. In this district, the Republican (a gay West Hollywood activist) could bump out number two. I honestly believe that Torie Osborn will be number 1, so Brad could be a major factor," wrote Scott Lay, who tracks the state's electoral races for the Around the Capitol website, in an email to the Bay Area Reporter last week. "The Republican will get 26 percent-30 percent in June, and it is quite likely that he will be #2. With no chance in November, this makes the Republican the decision-maker in June."

Even Democratic officials have begun suggesting that Torgan could be a major factor in the race. Earlier this month Eric Bauman , the openly gay chair of the Los Angeles Democratic Party, told LA-based gay newsmagazine Frontiers that Torgan "'has a chance to get into the top two" in a district, noted the article, "that is 31 percent Republican, and given the split among progressives."

Internal polling by both Bloom's and Osborn's campaigns have found Torgan landing in second place according to their research. A poll done by Osborn at the start of February had her in first place in June with 15 percent and Torgan in second with 14 percent.

"Additional survey results show Betsy Butler has very low name recognition in the district. Also, AD 50 voters are unlikely to support a candidate who is a state representative of Torrance and recently moved to Beverly Hills. This district, in particular, likes to elect homegrown reps," said Dave Jacobson, a spokesman for Osborn's campaign.

A poll Bloom conducted in October had him in first place with 19 percent and Torgan in second with 12 percent. Both polls had Butler in fourth place, though she did move above Torgan into second place in the Osborn polling after positive comments about the candidates were read.

"Any of the Democratic campaigns would like to see Brad come in second or first in the primary. That means whoever Democrat makes it through stands stronger chances and doesn't have to spend millions in November" against a Democratic opponent, said gay West Hollywood commissioner Scott Schmidt, a Republican and spokesman for Torgan's campaign.

Torgan, 50, who is single and succeeded Schmidt as chair of the gay Log Cabin Republican's Los Angeles chapter, was the chief counsel for state parks in former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger 's administration. He is now in private practice and, last year, was approached by local GOP officials looking to recruit him to run for the Assembly seat.

In an interview last week Torgan said he believes his chances of advancing beyond the primary are good due to the unique set of circumstances he is facing.

"I don't know how they are posing the questions," he said of the Democratic polling, "but if I am the only Republican in the race, there is going to be some floor of people in this district who are not going to vote for a liberal Democrat."

And no matter what happens next Tuesday in the GOP's presidential nominating fight, Torgan is convinced Republican turnout will still be high in California's June primary. One reason is that the GOP changed its rules and is not doling out delegates based on a winner-take-all basis.

"Even if it is settled, or all but settled, by June you are still going to have people like Ron Paul who will be working hard in districts like this that don't need a lot of Republican votes to win in order to harvest delegates," said Torgan.

Another compelling factor to draw Republicans to the polls is the chance to take out a sitting Democratic Assembly member, noted both Torgan and Schmidt.

"I think it is definitely a motivator," said Torgan. "If she is not in the general election it doesn't mean I have taken her out. It is meaning two or three candidates have taken her out."

Should Butler fail to advance past June, it would be a stunning defeat not only for her but also gay Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles).

Instead of having Butler move into and seek re-election in the newly drawn 66th Assembly District based in Torrance, seen as more favorable to the GOP, Perez pushed to see Butler seek the WeHo seat. Not only did Osborn's supporters denounce the decision, but even some Democratic Party officials questioned the move.

Butler's campaign did not return a call seeking comment Friday. She will be in San Francisco this weekend for a fundraiser being co-hosted by Geoff Kors and Jim Carroll, former leaders with Equality California, the statewide LGBT advocacy organization that has endorsed her in the race.

Butler sits on the EQCA Institute board along with Board of Equalization board member Betty Yee, another host of the Sunday, March 4 event.

Despite the polling numbers and expected high Republican turnout in June, some Osborn supporters remain convinced their candidate and Butler will advance to the fall general election.

And Torgan, who would have little chance of winning come November in the heavily Democratic district, said he isn't even thinking beyond the summer.

"That is because I have to get through the primary to even be thinking about the general election," said Torgan.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail mailto:.

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