Hector Raul Gastelum isn’t conceding the Hispanic vote to Democrat Ben Hueso in the March 12 special election to fill a state Senate vacancy in the 40th District, saying: “He’s not going to out-Mexico me.”
Mexican-born Gastelum, who said his father was killed 24 years ago by the Arellano Felix cartel in the first wave of Tijuana drug violence, is a 38-year-old Realtor whose dad worked with former congressman Duncan H. Hunter.
At a county Republican meeting this week in Rancho Bernardo, Gastelum won the unanimous endorsement of the party’s Central Committee.
“I connected with them,” he said, indicating Hueso made only a token appearance. “It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.”
With 140,000 Latino voters in the 40th District—about 45 percent of the district that includes Imperial Beach—he sees his chances as reasonable.
But of the 314,886 voters in that South County district, Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 2-to-1, and 52 percent of voters labeling themselves Latino or Hispanic are Democrats.
Some 16 percent of Latinos in the district are Republicans while 28 percent list no party affiliation, says the Registrar of Voters Office as of Feb. 10.
Gastelum, a Chula Vista resident, is unfazed.
“If I wanted to run the easy way, I’d run as a Democrat,” he told 200 fellow Republicans at Monday’s meeting at the Rancho Bernardo Inn. “That’s a slam dunk. … It’s an uphill battle, [but] I’m not looking at the odds.”
But Gastelum decided to enter this race, his first try at elective office, because he had a “sickening feeling” while watching the Democratic victories in November.
“If I want to change, it starts with me,” he said. “The only way to get our state back is to [enter races] in Democratic territories and punch them in the stomach.”
Gastelum, who tweets frequently, charmed the GOP crowd with stories of his Catholic school upbringing and said: “We need more private schools here. We send our students to godless [public] schools.”
His lone GOP rival in the five-person Senate field is Xanthi Gionis, founder of Carlsbad’s Aristotle University, which came under intense media scrutiny after it was revealed to lack accreditation for its public-health school and was being blasted by former students.
Gionis had been scheduled to seek the party’s endorsement at Monday’s meeting, but she called county Chairman Tony Krvaric about noon that day to say she wouldn’t attend.
Krvaric told Patch that Gionis said “it wouldn’t be good for the party” to appear at the meeting, where news media were expected.
For his part, Gastelum showed appreciation to the audience for its endorsement: “The media says we’re not diverse! Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
The San Diego County GOP, taking a cue from state party chairman candidate Jim Brulte at his Rancho Bernardo appearance in January, also endorsed two other candidates of color Monday night.
One was Harmeet Dhillon of San Francisco (who also has a second home in Sonoma County), who is running for first vice chairman of the California Republican Party.
Dhillon, born to a physician in India, has been a U.S. resident since age 2. She told of her journey beginning in North Carolina (where she witnessed KKK cross burnings and her family befriended Sen. Jesse Helms) and at Dartmouth College (where she was featured on 60 Minutes as the editor of a conservative campus newspaper taking on liberal college speech codes).
At the University of Virginia Law School, she said, she was president of the largest Federalist Society chapter in the nation.
But after 9/11, she took on a role as a national spokeswoman for the Sikh community, whose turban-wearing men began coming under attack—mistaken as Muslims.
Her job was to explain “why we are the Sikhs and why you shouldn’t shoot at us,” she said.
In San Francisco—“very hostile territory” to Republicans, she said—she employed the “buddy system” for staffing voter-registration booths.
In 2008, she ran for state Assembly in District 13—joking that the 13 stood for its percentage of Republicans. (It’s even less now, she said.) She lost, but said she won nearly double the GOP registration.
As first vice chairman of the state GOP, she said, she “would be a workhorse, not a showhorse” and employ modern media strategies to grow the party, which she also serves as a pro bono (unpaid) attorney.
(She also owns a yarn company, and her retired nuclear engineer husband, attending the meeting, wore a scarf she made.)
The lifelong Republican, 44, stressed: “If we only talk to each other … pretty soon we’re going to disappear,” and vowed to reach out to nontraditional GOP groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union.
At Dartmouth, she said, the ACLU came to her aid. She’s been grateful ever since.
Also showing gratitude was Sandy Spackman, a Laotian immigrant. She’s among nine people running in a March 26 election to serve the remainder of San Diego Councilman Tony Young’s term in the heavily Democratic 4th District of southeast communities.
Spackman called herself the only Republican running.
“Where [else] can you see a Lao refugee running for office?” she said. “It’s been 50 years since a Republican held office in the 4th District. We can change history.”
Spackman, who lists herself on the ballot as “Administrative Coordinator/Educator,” was dwarfed on the dais by Krvaric, a tall Swedish-born immigrant.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to get there,” Spackman said, “but I need your help. We can make this happen, but I need your support.”
Said Krvaric after she left the lectern: “Thank you for being in the arena.”