Republican Sue Caro’s campaign for Barbara Lee’s seat is doomed, she says, but that isn’t the point

Alameda County GOP vice chair Sue Caro was 
one of the masterminds behind the local party’s
two big upsets in 2014.

CONGRESS | 13TH DISTRICT |
Sue Caro doesn’t believe for a second that she will defeat long-time East Bay Rep. Barbara Lee this year or any other year. But the current vice chair of the Alameda County Republican Party, who announced her candidacy last week, is thinking long-term. You can say she’s “In it to win it…somebay.” But, at a time when Republicans in the state scramble for any semblance of electoral success, especially in the East Bay, Caro, the political operative, has found success anywhere she can find it.

For instance, Assemblymember Catharine Baker’s big win for East Bay Republicans long shut out of Sacramento, have Caro’s fingerprints all over it as does Democratic stalwart Ellen Corbett’s shocking third-place finish in the 2014 15th Congressional District primary. The latter likely handing the seat for the next generation to Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Tri Valley moderate Democrat grudgingly palatable to conservatives.

Yet, despite her growing resume in Republican circles, Caro is honest about her astronomically-slim chances against the 13th Congressional District juggernaut. but that doesn’t mean Caro isn’t going hard at Lee, who has served Oakland and the East Bay since 1998. The very first thing out of Caro’s mouth was, in fact, “First of all, Barbara Lee is a socialist,” she said. “She’s not helping us and I don’t think she’s done anything for Oakland, per se.” In addition, Caro was critical of Lee inviting members of Black Lives Matter to her office, a move she described as pandering to her progressive base and ignoring the majority of her constituents. “We have more white people than black people in Oakland,” said Caro, “Not to mention a growing Latino and Asian population.”

Over the years, a litany of fringe candidate seeking Lee’s seat in Congress have lodged some of the same criticisms against the progressive Democrat. Two years ago, Dakin Sundeen, a low-key political neophyte, matched the electoral performance of many of Lee’s Republican challengers by garnering only 12 percent of the vote to Lee’s 88 percent. Although Caro doubts Lee will attend any candidate forums this year, she plans to offer voters “a responsible voice” for conservatives. “I won’t embarrass the party,” she adds. She also realizes there will be no campaign funding reserves to draw from and individual contributions will be scant. “The Republican cavalry is not going to come in and save me,” she concedes. But there may be some long-term value by running for the seat.

When it comes to rebuilding the GOP in Alameda County, there’s much work to be done. At roughly seven percent, the number of registered Republicans in the 13th Congressional District is the lowest in the state. But, if beating Lee is out of the question, then doubling the number of GOP votes in the general election is within reach, said Caro. And doing so would also allow Caro to handpick additional delegates to the state Republican convention, thereby furthering her influence and sidestepping what she calls “the crazies” within the far depths of the party.

In this department, Caro has experience. After libertarians supporting Ron Paul attempted to hijack the Alameda County GOP over five years ago, the local party appeared to list toward highlighting symbolic resolutions instead of trying to get Republicans elected. A change in direction quickly followed upon Caro taking over chair of the county party in early 2012. The Paul libertarians were banished and a genuine plan for building an organization capable of identifying conservative political prospects and plugging them into the statewide party’s campaign fundraising opportunities and political connections. Caro, however, still has her detractors in the local party who prefer a more conservative brand of candidate over moderates who may slowly, but incrementally rebuild the party in the East Bay. Yet, Caro’s track record in posting big wins for East Bay Republicans is unquestioned.

In early 2013, Caro and other members of the local party felt the changing demographics of the Sixteenth Assembly District in Contra Costa County and the Tri Valley in Alameda County was ripe for flipping to a shade of red. But, despite Caro’s insistence, statewide leaders ignored her exuberance for a Pleasanton attorney named Catharine Baker who was facing moderate Democrats Tim Sbranti and Steve Glazer in 2014. “They just didn’t believe me,” Caro said of Republican leaders who left Baker’s campaign off its Top Five Target List for funding up-for-grabs legislative races.

Eventually, the party came around and Baker became the first East Bay Republican member of the state legislature since 2008 following the defeat of Sbranti. During the same election cycle, Caro realized the state’s open primary system could be leveraged in the East Bay’s Fifteenth Congressional District intraparty race between Democrats Eric Swalwell and Ellen Corbett.

Caro and another Alameda County GOP member named Hugh Bussell looked at the race and predicted the numbers worked in favor of a Republican squeezing into the general election against the incumbent Swalwell. Bussell filed for the race, raised very little money and posted an upset second-place finish, edging out Corbett, and advancing to November. The upset is one of the most unlikely outcomes in recent Alameda County political history. “We think Eric should have sent a bunch of roses to Hugh,” said Caro.

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