The reporter didn’t seem to believe it. The candidate in front of him supports abortion rights, same-sex marriage and believes climate change is real.

“What makes you a Republican?” ABC News’ Rick Klein asked.

The answer that Carl DeMaio, the GOP candidate for Congress in the 52nd District race, gave was irrelevant. That someone was even asking it shows how successful DeMaio has been at pitching himself as someone you wouldn’t think would represent the Republican Party.

The truth is DeMaio has GOP bona fides going back two decades – more than half his life. He’s run with Republicans at the highest levels of government, pitched San Diego as a national model for big GOP reforms and led a successful push to make the local GOP more hardline. His party ties have never been in question.

While still in college in the mid-1990s, DeMaio had a job with a nonprofit tasked with teaching the new Republican majority in Congress how to flex its muscles. He worked with then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, then-Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey and Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and then one of Armey’s top aides. President George W. Bush’s administration later appointed him to a panel on government contracting.

In San Diego, DeMaio wanted to turn the city into the “Wisconsin of the West,” referring to Wisconsin’s GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s major 2011 fight with state unions over collective bargaining. During the city’s 2012 mayoral campaign, DeMaio won the local GOP endorsement over two other prominent Republicans by arguing that he was the most uncompromising candidate on core Republican principles. The party spent thousands in donations on his campaign.

DeMaio didn’t make noise about problems with the GOP until he lost that election, immediately pivoting to the idea that the Republican brand was broken and he could help fix it. In this congressional race, DeMaio has gotten national media to believe this is his identity in a short time.

DeMaio is a master marketer of himself, and this also has been true since he was in college. This means he’s really good at getting people to believe his pitches, but also makes it hard to understand who he really is:

It’s never been clear, either in Washington or San Diego, if DeMaio is working on behalf of himself or the ideas he’s promoting. He has crossed the boundaries between partisan and nonpartisan, business and politics, and innovator and imitator so often that it’s difficult to understand what’s motivating him on any issue.

Sure, DeMaio’s positions on abortion, marriage equality and climate change put him outside the norm compared with the national GOP. But DeMaio has always been inside the party’s tent.

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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