POLITICO Pro Q&A: California House candidate Bryan Caforio

By Elena Schneider
06/17/2016 05:00 AM EDT

Democrats have a 30-seat deficit in the House of Representatives, but their path back to relevance isn’t simply the reverse of the one that led the GOP to recent big wins.

Democrats’ 2016 House map includes a number of fast-changing, suburban seats where the party is hoping population trends will help them make their first serious challenges. One of them is California’s 25th District, based in the Simi Valley north of Los Angeles.

First-term GOP Rep. Steve Knight will face Democrat Bryan Caforio there this fall, after Caforio cleared a Democratic rival in last week’s all-party primary. Lou Vince had the state Democratic Party endorsement, but Caforio, an attorney and first-time candidate, finished comfortably ahead of him. Caforio spoke about why he decided to run, the impact of the presidential race on his down-ticket campaign and more during a recent trip to Washington, D.C.

The conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Why did you decide to get into the race in December?

Going back to the very beginning, my parents are both school teachers. I want to public schools. I grew up in a middle-class family, and I feel like I got a lot of opportunities, which allowed me to go to UCLA, which allowed me to go to Yale Law School, work for a federal judge, come back and have a successful law practice. You just look around and see that too many people aren’t getting those same opportunities, so education for both of us is a very big deal. And since 2011, funding on a federal level has been cut 20 percent. I think that’s crazy.

What I’ve been doing for the last few years as an attorney is dealing with mortgage-backed security cases, really seeing the financial collapse from the inside, suing banks, seeing how they take advantage of people. My wife, and she was really pushing me, was saying, “Hey, you know what? Instead of complaining about it, try to do something about it.”

Why not start with something local? Why Congress?

My particular level of experience is well suited for Congress right now. The cases I’ve been working on are about the financial collapse, it’s a national issue, about the federal laws that are effecting banking, financial reform. The issues they deal with are the issues I have experience with.

Congress has been a very unpopular institution for some time now.

It makes sense people hate Congress because they have the wrong priorities. They are not representing their people in their communities. I’ve gotten frustrated, I’ve been disillusioned by it. You get to that crossroads where you can be frustrated and zone out, or you can try to make a difference and you can try to take it back one seat at a time.

Post-primary, have you been in touch with Lou Vince? Do you feel like you’re going to go forward as a united Democratic Party?

Lou ran a great campaign, but I’m sure he’s not thrilled to have not moved on. I’ve talked to a lot of his supporters, to his campaign manager, and I think we’re going to have a good united Democratic voice going forward. In this primary, I got 65 to 70 percent of the Democratic vote. I believe it was the most votes ever gotten by a Democratic candidate in a primary in this district. So we’re about as united as ever. It’s only going to get stronger as we go forward as we highlight how extreme and out of touch Steve Knight is.

You’ve already been working to tie Knight to Donald Trump. How do you plan to make that case to voters?

You’ve got Donald Trump, who refused to disavow the KKK, and you’ve got Steve Knight who voted for the Confederate flag on multiple occasions. You’ve got Donald Trump, who wants to break up families and deport 11 to 12 million people, and then Steve Knight, whose statement is, I have no problem deporting the parents of American citizens in a district that’s 40 percent Latinos.

People pay most attention to the presidential race. They’re going to be seeing every single day the hateful, hurtful rhetoric that Donald Trump is putting out there, and when they look down the ballot and learn more about Steve Knight and see he’s right there with Donald Trump on those issues, we’re going to see people go the other way.

What about the Democratic presidential race?

I didn’t endorse. I think both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are well-qualified, great candidates. I would’ve been proud to vote for either in November. … And the way it’s looking, I’ll proudly vote for Hillary Clinton in November.

Would you campaign with Clinton if you were offered the chance?

She hasn’t asked me to do so yet. But I think it’d be great for us to call attention to this district. … It’d be great for her to come out and show [those constituents] are not forgotten.

How has the district changed in recent years?

[Former GOP Rep.] Buck McKeon was there for 18 years. Only one of his elections was after the redistricting. After redistricting, it became much more Democratic, just the way the lines were drawn. Buck was reelected because he was a chairman, everyone knows him. But looking at the boundaries now, Obama won it by one point [in 2008] and lost it by one point [in 2012]. In 2012, there were 17,000 more Republicans; today, there are 3,000 more Democrats, so we’re moving in that direction.

What are your policy issues that you find yourself talking about on the trail or where you feel you differ most from Rep. Knight?

On policy, I’m opposed to Congressman Knight on pretty much everything. … A big point of disagreement is Social Security and Medicare and this is going to be a big issue in the campaign. I think it’s the greatest program in American history. It’s a sacred promise we’ve made to our seniors, and I’ll be there to strengthen it, not there to talk about how it’s a bad idea or say, as he did in a radio interview, that he’s not a fan of it.

Women’s health is a big issue. Steve Knight is as far to the extreme as he can be. He’s voted to defund Planned Parenthood, he doesn’t believe in exceptions for abortions. We have a Planned Parenthood in the Antelope Valley. … it provides health care services to 13,000 women a year, women from our community who don’t have other places to go and Steve Knight is trying to shut that down.

Do you agree on anything?

Oh, we agree on some things. I think we all want the same thing – good jobs and safe, healthy areas to raise families. I think he has misguided ideas about how to get there.

What about the Senate race – are you excited to have a candidate running from Southern California?

I’m really excited about the Senate race. California hasn’t had a competitive Senate race in a real long time. I think it’s wonderful that we have two strong, powerful minority women running. Either way, we’re going to be well represented.

Do you think Rep. Loretta Sanchez will help boost turnout for you?

I’m not a pundit, so I don’t know how turnout is going to turn out. It makes logical sense to me that turnout can’t be hurt. We have a 9 percent African-American population, we’re 40 percent Latino. We have more female voters than male voters. It’s just one of the many reasons we’re excited about this race.

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