Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath and Assemblyman Brian Maienschein / Photos by Jamie Scott Lytle and Adriana Heldiz

Incumbent state lawmakers in San Diego often – but not always – have a relatively easy time winning re-election.

This year, the two most competitive state races appear to be the two districts that cover western North County, Assembly Districts 76 and 77, where two Democrats, Tasha Boerner Horvath and Brian Maienschein, are running for re-election.

Both are facing much different circumstances than they did four years ago. Both have major campaign cash advantages over their Republican opponents. But both of those Republican opponents have been buoyed in recent weeks by a Republican PAC looking to take out Democratic lawmakers.

Here’s a brief overview of each.

Assembly District 76

The race to replace Republican Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, who left to run for higher office, got truly wild just before the 2018 primary when a political smear against one of the Republican candidates upended the race. That’s a big part of how two Democrats ended up vying in the general election for a seat controlled by the GOP. (By the way, that political smear story only ended up getting weirder and weirder.)

Boerner Horvath is facing a Republican this time around, Christian counselor Melanie Burkholder.

At the end of her first year in office, Boerner Horvath told me she was most proud of passing a bill requiring that competitions held on state lands give out equal monetary prizes for each gender category. She also sought to sharply limit the amount of short-term vacation rentals in beach neighborhoods, but the bill got moved to a two-year track, and eventually died.

Burkholder has expressed dubious medical views, including encouraging people to seek medical exemptions from mask mandates during the pandemic and expressing support for parents who don’t want to follow state vaccination laws. A judge ruled she could not identify herself as a doctor on the ballot. She told the Union-Tribune in Q&A that she supports law enforcement and wants to see more resources for mental health.

Boerner Horvath has raised just over $1 million, bolstered by contributions from most of her Democratic colleagues. The California Democratic Party has swooped in with major contributions over the last few weeks, including one this week for more than $99,000.

Burkholder has raised far less – her campaign reported only $109,683 through Sept. 19. But Burkholder, too, has had some last-minute support from individuals, and from Senate Republican leader Shannon Grove’s re-election campaign fund, among others.

Assembly District 77

Two years ago, Maienschein got the race of his life from an unknown Democratic challenger, Sunday Gover. At the time, Maienschein was a Republican.

Now, Maienschein is a Democrat (he switched parties not long after his re-election), and is being challenged by another woman new to politics, Republican June Yang Cutter.

Cutter, an employment lawyer, has institutional support from the California Republican Party, and has made the party’s chief gripe – AB 5, the law making it harder for employers to classify workers as independent contractors – one of her top issues. She’s also been vocal about the need to reopen schools amid the pandemic. She also just scored the endorsement of the Union-Tribune editorial board.

Maienschein, other than the party switch, has maintained a low profile in Sacramento – in this year’s truncated legislative session, he passed laws expanding the statute of limitations in fertility fraud cases, and expanding seniors’ rights to cancel consumer contracts.

Like Boerner Horvath, Maienschein reported raising $1.2 million from the beginning of the year through last week. Cutter reported raising just over $322,000 over the same period.

Challengers Get a Boost from GOP PAC

In the last month, California Freedom PAC has dropped $125,000 apiece boosting Burkholder and Cutter. This week, it reported spending an additional $21,000 on each candidate to produce mailers.

Thomas Montgomery III, who’s listed as the group’s treasurer, told Voice of San Diego the group’s goal is simply to get Republicans elected.

“This state is so far out of whack politically. The Democrats run Sacramento, the governor is out of control, the attorney general is out of control,” he said.

The group’s financial disclosures show it recently returned a $125,000 donation – the same amount the group spent on both Burkholder and Cutter recently. Montgomery declined to say why.

“We returned a contribution. We don’t have to explain that. I have no comment on that. It’s very simple,” he said.

Golden State News

Kara Grant contributed to this report.

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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