GOP candidate Pablo Kleinman hopes to pull together diverse coalition

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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There’s a Republican running against 13-term Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman, who sits in a California district that is loaded with Democratic donors, plus huge numbers of Democratic-leaning Asian, Hispanic, Jewish and Middle-Eastern immigrants.

President Barack Obama got 70 percent of their votes in 2008.

But the Republican could win, maybe, somehow.

That’s because he’s Pablo Kleinman, an Argentine-born immigrant Jewish Hispanic, with an entrepreneurial career in the Internet sector, in publishing and on Spanish-language radio, who is promoting school choice, championing Israel and advocating generous immigration rules.

“The Californian GOP has huge problems — it is largely an irrelevance outside San Diego and Orange County,” said Christopher Whiton, a California-based GOP supporter, and a former GOP appointee to the federal State Department.

But Kleinman “is a compelling guy who is new to politics, and has a very interesting personal story,” and can be carried to victory if the election becomes a national wave against President Barack Obama, Whiton said.

California requires political parties to run open primaries, so the two top vote-getters in the June 3 primary will race against each other in the November election, regardless of their party affiliations.

In this primary, Berman is running against a left-wing environmentalist, a Democrat, and two Republicans, including the personally diverse Kleinman.

Kleinman is running on some the usual GOP issues.

He wants less federal regulation, and a rewrite of Obamacare to boost the free market, while also preserving mandated benefits, such as coverage for pre-existing conditions.

The voters aren’t very concerned about crime, or taxes, he said. That’s because their taxes are usually extracted before they get their pay stubs, Kleinman told TheDC. Nationally, the GOP’s advantages on taxes has dropped sharply since 2000.

So he’s also offering the voters a mixture of niche-marketing empathy, targeted policies and distance from the national GOP brand.

Many voters, especially Asians and Hispanics, are interested in getting their kids into better schools, Kleinman said. “It’s an issue that’s incredibly popular among Hispanics and among immigrants,” he said.

The issue is prominent in the 30th district, because local Hispanics are mostly middle-class, “where a lot of people move to once their businesses are doing better or they get better jobs,” Kleinman said.

“My opponent doesn’t speak Spanish, and I do, and I will be campaigning in Spanish.” Roughly 20 percent of the district’s electorate is Hispanic, said Kleinman.

Kleinman is also reaching out to the roughly 20 percent of the district voters who are Jews, including immigrant Russian, Israeli and Iranian Jews, he told TheDC.

Some of the Jewish voters are angry at Sherman because of the bitter 2012 fight against Howard Berman, another multi-term liberal Jewish Democrat. Many voters “supported Howard Berman quite strongly … [and] a lot of them are not going to vote for Sherman,” Kleinman said, who is a strong supporter of Israel.

Many of the district’s Jews are from Iran, where 2010 pro-democracy marches were ignored by Obama, Kleinman said. “He didn’t lift a finger … and we missed a huge opportunity,” he said. Iranian Jews are also receptive to his pitch, because they’re worried about Obama’s desperate effort to win a nuclear deal with Iran, he said.

His advocacy for Israel’s defense is also welcome among those voters, he said.

Kleinman has also published a policy journal on Middle East issues — in Spanish. “I have crossover appeal on both communities,” he said.

Asians are receptive to his pitch, even though most have voted Democratic in the past, he said. “When Asian voters heard that I was an immigrant and an entrepreneur, their support shot up dramatically, even though I’m not Asian myself,” he said.

“The immigrant aspect is very important to them, since I went through the immigrant experience, they think I can relate to their experience,” he said.

Despite their conservative-style personal and professional behavior, Asians tend not to care about political battles over social issues, he said. They see Republicans taking too much time talking about them,” such as a Democratic state bill to allow kids who claim to be “transgender” to use either boys or girls’ bathrooms, he said.

But that’s an issue that also activates many parents who support the GOP, because they recognize the transgender push is part of an effort by progressives to break the cultural ideals that are used in the development of young boys and girls.

Democrats use that issue to distract GOP supporters from more important issues, Kleinman complained. “It is a silly bill, it doesn’t matter … [and fighting it] makes us look like like we’re crazy,” he said. “It’s like the house is on fire and they want to talk about a fruit tree in the backward,” he said.

But Asians are becoming more receptive to the GOP, he said, partly because they’re afraid their kids will be disadvantaged by the Democrats’ push to revive “affirmative action” for Latinos and African-Americans.

Asian Democratic legislators recently killed an affirmative-action bill in the state legislature that would have make it harder for Asians to get into good colleges, he said.

GOP support for Asians in the affirmative action dispute needn’t alienate middle-class Hispanics, because the Hispanics are more focused on K-12 school choice, Kleinman said.

“There would be no need for affirmative action at the university level” if schools were improved via school choice, he said.

“What the Democrats are doing is putting inner-city kids and minority kinds into substandard union-run schools which gives them a poor education, and when they come out, they want to given them benefits to make up up for the poor education they condemned them to in the first place,” Kleinman said.

Immigration is a critical issue in his district, partly because 40 percent of the voters are immigrants, he said.

Among Asians, “there is a perception that Republicans are unfriendly to minorities, and Asians identify as a minority,” he said. “There is a perception that there are xenophobic elements in the GOP that don’t want them here, and don’t want [more] coming.”

Hispanics are also alienated by GOP legislators’ endorsement of deportation, Kleinman said. “They take that very badly because the [legislators] are talking about their neighbors, their relatives, about people they knew who are working hard to make a better life for themselves and their families,” he said.

That problems is exacerbated by the media, he said. “We are dealing with a hostile press, so we have be careful what we saw because they use that against us,” he said.

To help win Hispanic and Asian votes, Kleinman wants to offer a multi-stage amnesty to illegal immigrants, although he uses more tactful language.

“The [June 2013] Senate bill was a good start, but it don’t go far enough,” he said.

“We need to secure the border. … [Illegal immigrants] that commit a crime should be deported [and] the ones that show they are contributing and law-abiding should be given a path to permanent residency,” he said.

His website acknowledges the impact of large-scale immigration on Americans’ pocketbooks — including many of the Latino, Asian and white people in the 30th district. “There is a limit to the ability of the United States to absorb millions of undocumented persons whose substandard wages hurt low-income Americans,” his website says.

But “I don’t think it’s realistic to talk about deporting people or making them go back home for years to get paperwork. … They have bills to pay, they can’t afford to go back to their country of origin,” he told TheDC.

Some immigrants are needed by businesses, who lack both low-skilled and high-skilled workers, he insisted. “We do need a guest-worker program, not just for low-skilled workers but also for high skilled people,” he said.

But there’s no evidence of a shortage in high-skilled workers.

Wages for all workers are flat, 20 million unemployed or underemployed Americans are seeking good jobs, and the labor market is being increased every year by the arrival of roughly four million 18-year-olds and 800,000 skilled university graduates. The country also gives green cards to one million immigrants, and work permits to 650,000 foreigners each year.

But Kleinman takes it even further — he wants American employers to be able to hire skilled foreign workers whenever they want. “I would actually let the market determine that. … I’m fine with that,” he said.

He’s hardly alone in backing free trade in labor. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Rand Paul and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, have all backed proposals that would allow employers to hire cheap foreigners instead of Americans. Those plans are catnip to business donors, because they would cut wages, increase consumer sales, spike profits and inflate the stock market.

But GOP voters tend to oppose legislators whose plans will add tens of millions of job-seekers to a slack economy. And voters who oppose wage cuts far outnumber Hispanic swing voters.

In 2012, Hispanics made up 8.4 percent of the electorate. If Mitt Romney had pumped up his share of the Hispanic vote by half, up from 27 percent to 40 percent, he would have only shifted the national electorate two points in his favor. Instead, President Barack Obama painted Romney as a heartless capitalist, and won by four points, or 51.1 percent to 47.2 percent. Obama also got 71 percent of the Hispanic vote.

Also, many GOP politicians quietly oppose to any plan that would sharply increase the Democratic-leaning Hispanic vote and would likely shove them into a permanent minority status after 2030. That’s been the fate of California’s GOP, which is now essentially powerless in immigrant-heavy California.

Some business and donors groups have tried to muffle that concern by backing legislation that allows illegals to become residents, but not citizens.

That legalization-but-no-citizenship plan is even worse than doing nothing, Kleinman said.

“It would be a mistake because that would be another tool in the hands of Democrats that they would use to smash us over and over again, and they would succeed for humanitarian reasons in getting all these people to be citizens, and it will be too late to convince them to support Republicans,” he said.

Overall, Kleinman could win, but he must simultaneously keep GOP supporters and win over a large slice of Shaman’s base, said Stutzman. “It would be extremely difficult. … A Republican wining the Sherman seat is just extremely is difficult,” he said.

He’ll need “a monumental amount of money, to carve Democratic constituencies away from Sherman,” he said, adding “he’d better have $5 million to spend.”

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