We’re just over one month away from Election Day and it’s been an election year unlike any other. While the Trump vs. Clinton circus rightfully takes center stage, there are other races that will be decided on Nov. 8, as well. They don’t have nearly the entertainment value or generate anywhere near the level of anxiety that Trump’s candidacy has [and let’s face it, plenty of Republicans are just as horrified as Democrats], but these are important races that could have a significant impact locally.
Last month we discussed the race for the California 49th Congressional District, where incumbent Darrell Issa is facing his toughest challenge since he was first elected to Congress in 2000.
However, no race has arguably been as competitive, expensive and as closely watched throughout the last two election cycles as the one for the 52nd Congressional District, a seat currently held by Scott Peters.
The 52nd is a swing district that is roughly evenly divided between registered Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.
Peters is reasonably well liked, particularly among the local business community; he has a solid record despite having served in the minority his entire tenure; and he has been one of the more active members of Congress, particularly among the local delegation.
Enter Denise Gitsham, the latest candidate to take a shot at Peters’ seat.
Gitsham is young, attractive and smart. She earned a law degree at Georgetown University, served on George W. Bush’s first campaign for president, and later in the Department of Justice, under former Attorney General John Ashcroft. She often touts the national security experience she would bring to office, having worked to help develop and implement the Patriot Act and the Violence Against Women Act, among other projects (which she said are “secret”).
But listen to her speak and it quickly becomes clear that this is not a candidate — unlike her predecessors — prone to foot-in-mouth disease.
Gitsham held a town hall gathering on Oct. 4 and it was there I discovered she was not what has previously passed as a typical Republican in today’s day and age.
For example, on the issue of marriage equality, while her religious beliefs (she is a Christian) personally give her reservations, she said it is a settled law and “likely won’t be changed anytime soon.”
On abortion, Gitsham artfully danced around the issue, accepting that the Supreme Court decided the matter in 1972, but noted that in many states, that right has been chipped away. Then she said, while she believes that “God created us and gave us a purpose in this world,” she can also understand how an unexpected pregnancy can be a source of enormous stress for a woman who, for whatever reason, feels she is not prepared to bring a child into this world.
But where do we draw the line, she asked? In her mind, that point of no return is when the “child” can feel pain. [The trouble with that is there is no scientific consensus as to the point of the pregnancy when that occurs.] Religious conservatives insist that it comes at the point of conception. Gitsham, for her part, admitted that the line is very opaque.
With regard to Planned Parenthood — among the biggest “boogeymen” in conservative politics — Gitsham clearly breaks with the Republican Party line. Planned Parenthood, she acknowledged, has done “so many good things for low-income women.”
The organization, she said, provides vital health care services to people who otherwise would not have access. But while she is supportive of the organization on the whole, she insists that taxpayers should not foot the bill for abortions.
[And they don’t. Congress insured that with the Hyde Amendment in 1976, which means that abortion procedures are not covered by Medicaid, or Medi-Cal in California.] I suspect she knows this, but spoke as if government funds pay for millions of abortions.
A very engaging speaker, Gitsham is also very adept at avoiding direct answers to controversial questions. [I’ve had the opportunity to speak with Rep. Peters a number of times, and one thing I have found is that he will answer tough questions directly, even if he knows the answer might not be popular.]
For example, when asked whether she would support the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), Gitsham expressed her general support for free trade agreements — NAFTA, she noted, brought a net of 25 million jobs to the U.S. economy — but deftly evaded leaning one way or another on TPP, stating, “It depends on what iteration of the agreement” is being voted on.
Gitsham also excoriated the incumbent for his vote in support of the Iran nuclear deal, bemoaning the $150 billion that was released as a part of the treaty.
[It was their money in the first place, frozen as a part of the harsh sanctions that were implemented to derail their nuclear program.] She said Iran is a state sponsor of terror [something widely accepted as true] who she claims we are in the middle of a war with [we’re not]. She offered no alternative course of action to halt Iran’s nuclear program.
Gitsham also refused to say whether she supports Donald Trump, the de facto leader of the Republican Party. Trump “has become some sort of litmus test for candidates,” she said, but she prefers to focus on this race because it has far more direct implications for constituents.
Throughout the town hall event, Gitsham spoke on many hot button issues, such as immigration, education, taxes, and the economy, but offered no policy proposals to get behind. She spoke articulately, even eloquently, but did not offer much of substance.
She also panned Congress’ approval rating, which currently measures around 20 percent — but failed to mention that Republicans are the ones in complete control of Congress.
Does she have enough support to flip a competitive district? Time will tell.
—Andy Cohen is a local freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.