VISTA — On June 5, approximately 158,000 voters turned out in the 49th Congressional District — covering North San Diego County and Southern Orange County — to determine which two candidates would face off in the November midterm election. The spots went to one Democrat, Mike Levin, and one Republican, Diane Harkey.
This was the moment when Terra Lawson-Remer could finally exhale.
“I think people are tired, but really inspired,” Lawson-Remer said.
For more than a year, Lawson-Remer and about 2,000 other citizens in the 49th Congressional District came together as Flip the 49th! Neighbors in Action to coordinate the removal of Republican Congressman Darrell Issa from office. While some protested outside the congressman’s office, Lawson-Remer got together with a small group to plan a strategy to help the Democrats win the next election. Now that they have a candidate on the November ballot, Flip the 49th! Campaign Manager Johnny Papagianis said members of the group are resting briefly, then making efforts to ensure that Democratic candidate Levin wins.
“Now it’s a one-on-one contest,” Papagianis said.” There’s no let-up. I think that everybody I’ve worked with throughout this process, everybody gets this. I don’t anticipate there being any drop-off.”
Since Flip the 49th! did not support any one Democratic candidate, Lawson-Remer said the group is also working to reconnect with members of the party.
“We need to go through a process of rebuilding some bridges and building those relationships so that we can focus together on the common overarching goal, which is to defend the values that make America what it is and to take back the country that we love,” Lawson-Remer said.
Since 2003, the 49th Congressional was held by Issa. Before that, two Democrats held the seat non-consecutively for one term each, with Republican Brian Bilbray taking the seat from 1995 to 2001. Diane Harkey’s campaign manager, Bryan Shroyer, said the Republicans have had their own campaign efforts operating just as long as the grassroots Flip the 49th!, and they are ready for the challenge.
“Bring it,” Shroyer said. “When voters of this district hear what Diane has to offer versus our opponent, they’re going to side with Diane.”
Flip the 49th! is currently working to rebuild within its party, but Shroyer said he sees their past approach as divisive.
“Diane’s message speaks to the voters in the 49th, as opposed to dividing people into different segments like our opponent.”
Additionally, Harkey’s campaign is not concerned by the higher Democratic voter turnout in June’s primary.
“The primary turnout is not indicative of what we’re going to see in November,” Shroyer said.
If Levin does not win in November, Papagianis said there would be mourning, but he is confident the citizens will find a way to organize — like getting involved with local government or speaking up about national matters.
“If there’s a bill coming up in Congress, I’m confident that people will turn up and make their voices heard after the election no matter what the outcome is,” Papagianis said.
Neither Papagianis nor Lawson-Remer could think of an organization doing similar work — something that troubled Lawson-Remer. Still, the group received national attention for its efforts when it saw more Democratic voters than Republican voters in the primary. Lawson-Remer described these results as providing even more energy for the campaign and its volunteers.
“I think people should be proud,” Lawson-Remer said. “This is one of those rare things where you really can say this belongs to everyone.”
The next five months will tell which candidate makes it into the House of Representatives — and whether Flip the 49th! Neighbors in Action will meet the second part of their goal on Nov. 6.