Capitol Alert

A doctored photo and a lawsuit: California GOP battle takes a nasty turn

The outcome will do nothing to boost the struggling party’s representation in the Legislature.

And yet two Republicans in the California Assembly competing for a safe GOP seat in the state Senate are engaged in a bitterly-fought race marred by questionable campaign tactics.

Brian Dahle sent voters misleading information about his opponent, Kevin Kiley.

One campaign mailer sent ahead of the March primary showed an edited photo of Kiley standing next to Democratic presidential hopeful Kamala Harris, labeling him as a “former staffer” of hers.

The problem: Kiley has never met Harris. While he did work as a deputy attorney general for the state, Kiley said he had a civil service position and was not politically appointed.

“The desperation you’ve seen from Brian raises questions about why he’s willing to exceed all boundaries of fair play just to run for this seat,” Kiley said.

But Dahle isn’t alone in his use of fierce campaign tactics.

Kiley sued another Republican opponent in February, shortly before the state’s deadline to print primary ballots. Rex Hime, who wanted his ballot title listed as “taxpayer advocate” lost in court to Kiley and was forced to switch it to “small business advocate.”

Hime, president of the California Business Properties Association, said the change caused him to lose some votes, though he acknowledges it wasn’t nearly enough to sway the outcome.

Kiley downplayed the lawsuit.

“It wasn’t a big deal,” Kiley said of his lawsuit. “It wasn’t an accurate ballot title. ... Rex wasn’t a big contender. I do think I have the best record for any candidate on taxes.”

Hime, who has since endorsed Dahle, said Kiley wouldn’t have sued him unless he felt threatened.

“If it wasn’t a big deal, he wouldn’t have sued me,” Hime said. “You can’t say it’s not a big deal and then sue me on the title. It’s a political world and you do things you have to do, but Kevin wants to win aggressively.”

Dahle and Kiley are vying to succeed former Sen. Ted Gaines, who is now a member of the Board of Equalization. Ballots are due June 4. The winner of the race will represent nearly 1 million people in a huge swath of Northern California, from Folsom to Modoc.

Dahle edged out Kiley in the primary by two percentage points — a difference of 3,435 votes. The seat is one of few considered Republican in the state. Today, Republicans hold just 10 districts in the 40-seat Senate.

The California Republican Party said it wouldn’t endorse Dahle or Kiley, as the party prefers to stay out of races where two Republicans are competing against each other in a general election.

“Voters are going to decide which candidate they want,” said Matt Fleming, a spokesman for the CA GOP. “Either way, we’re going to have a great senator.”

Both candidates are promoting themselves as the most conservative option on the ballot. Dahle and Kiley have each sent mail to voters suggesting his opponent supports an open border.

Dahle claimed in one mailer that Kiley supported a bill to “help illegal immigrant convicted criminals stay in the U.S.” Dahle supported a similar version of that bill and declined to vote on the final version when it reached the floor of the Assembly.

Meanwhile, Kiley said Dahle supports amnesty — an official pardon for people who unlawfully enter the United States. His campaign referenced a vague resolution that, in part, calls for a “logical and streamlined path to citizenship for individuals after they gain legal status.”

Both candidates stood by their messaging.

Kiley said Dahle is running for senate “precisely because he’s been ineffective” in that chamber.

“I do hope Brian does some soul-searching and figures out what got him into public service in the first place,” Kiley said.

Dahle added to his barrage of attacks, mocking Kiley for inaccurately “claiming he was a cattle rancher despite the fact he lives in an apartment in Rocklin.” Kiley is a co-owner of Ose-Kiley Cattle.

“He has not been honest and I stand by my campaign publishing true things,” Dahle said in a written statement.

Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.