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Kurinsky-Malos on managing hot CA-3 House race in momentous times

A 25-year-old Oregon native, Michaela Kurinsky-Malos has worked every election cycle since 2016 including in Oregon, Washington, Illinois and Colorado. She began this election cycle as deputy campaign manager for New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff’s Oregon gubernatorial run, but soon after his disqualification for residency issues in February, she took over as campaign manager of the moderate Dr. Kermit Jones (D) for Congress campaign in California’s 3rd Congressional district.

The CA-3 sprawls across 10 counties from Plumas up north to southern Inyo, with most population in Placer, Sacramento and El Dorado counties. For the November runoff, Dr. Jones will face State Assemblymember Kevin Kiley (R), and it should be very competitive as Donald Trump in 2020 would have won the realigned district by just 1.9%.

About leading her first major House campaign with control of Congress at stake, Kurinsky-Malos said: “I’m honored, and I feel all my experience managing down-ballot statewide campaigns, being a critical part of gubernatorial campaigns, and having advocated for state legislative races have prepared me precisely for this moment.”

SACTO POLITICO: With 96% tabulated, the CA-3’s 227,000 votes were by far more than the next closest of California’s 52 House races. (Rep. Young Kim’s CA-40 primary in Orange County with 182,000). The two Republicans in the race – Asm. Kiley and Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones – combined for 55.8%, but without a competitive Democratic rival, Dr. Jones still attracted the 14th most votes of any Democratic House candidate in the state. Not bad for a first-time candidate, but how do you view the primary results?

MICHAELA KURINSKY-MALOS: First, the primary results are not final and verified at this point, but what we are taking away is that voters are supporting Dr. Kermit because he’s a veteran who has always put service to country over party politics. Just like so many voters across this district, he learned the value of hard work growing up on a family farm. After 9/11, he chose to make the sacrifice and joined the Navy and served as a flight surgeon in Iraq. We believe that message is resonating.

It’s important to share that we have internal polling that assumes an 8-point motivation advantage for Republicans overall this cycle, but our polling still has Dr. Kermit 1-point ahead of Kiley in the general election. I think the reason why is Dr. Kermit’s profile as a candidate and who he is as a person is so much stronger than that of Kevin Kiley. That’s because Kiley is an extreme partisan who hasn’t delivered results for anybody in this district and who would rather spend time rallying with extremists who are calling for civil war than helping people in this community.

Party registration in this district also suggests there are more voters who aren’t beholden to a single party and are looking for independent thinkers. We intend to and will earn their support by the end of this race.

[Editor’s note: The Kiley campaign didn’t respond to offers for their own Q&A.]

S/P: Sketch out the key differences between Dr. Jones and Asm. Kiley.

MKM: Voters are hurting right now from the gas pump to the grocery store, and they are looking for leaders who will fight like hell to do something about that. And they deserve that. At the end of the day, voters across the 3rd district are looking for someone who’s ready to take on party leaders on both sides of the aisle and not be a partisan extremist.

The key thing for Dr. Kermit is he has a lifetime of service to this country and this community. Whether it was in Iraq serving as a Navy flight surgeon with a Marine squadron or serving in the White House on veteran affairs and improving veterans’ health care, he has actually gotten things done. The difference is Kevin Kiley is an extreme partisan who hasn’t delivered results for his constituents. He is a career politician who wasted $276 million of taxpayer money [by pushing for the 2021 Newsom recall]. He opposes the right to abortion, even in the cases of rape or incest. He voted against making it a crime to carry a gun on school grounds.

I think that’s exactly why we are going to win. Dr. Kermit understands what people across this district are facing, whereas Kiley would rather spend time bending his talking points to extremist partisan politics. And no single voter is served by extremist talking points from either party.

S/P: Given you and Dr. Jones are pro-choice, the Supreme Court’s recent Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade must have been very difficult. But unlike other pro-choice supporters, you are in more of a direct position to try to do something about it as this is your profession. Is that the sweet and sour of what is going on right now for you?

MKM: I think you hit it squarely on the nose. It is hard to work in politics when rights are being stripped away, as was the case with the Dobbs v. Jackson ruling. So many of my friends, my family members and people I’m in community with have relied on access to full comprehensive healthcare. My mom had an abortion when she was 15 years old because she was a victim of an assault, and I had access to emergency contraception after I was a victim of an assault. The day of the Dobbs decision was really hard to work through.

Access to abortion is not a matter of whether you are pro-choice or pro-life as partisan politics would like to define it. It’s a matter of having access to full comprehensive health care. So yes, it was really difficult as a woman and as a young woman in America to watch Roe v. Wade be overturned and to know that I will have less access to rights than my mother did. But it was also a day of great pride because I know that when we elect Dr. Kermit, he will be a voice to keep the federal government outside the exam room where so many women receive comprehensive reproductive health care.

S/P: Also momentous is the Jan. 6 committee hearings. You mentioned earlier Kiley spoke at a March 2021 rally that featured extremist speakers and a co-organizer who after the Jan. 6 insurrection had called for Americans to arm for civil war. To date, only my publication and one intrepid high school journalist have reported on this. Maybe I am wrong that this is relevant for voters to be aware of and for Kiley to explain, but what’s your take?

MKM: It is extremely relevant that while Dr. Kermit was serving patients across our district, Kiley was rallying with militia groups who called for civil war in America. We will make that very clear throughout the general election. Kiley has blatantly undermined our democracy at every opportunity for his own political gain, and that stands in stark contrast with Dr. Kermit who has served his country both abroad and at home.

S/P: A key transition for any major campaign is its ability to evolve from a smaller, perhaps more retail scale to the gigantic wholesale politics of the general election. What details can you share about how that transition is going for your campaign?

MKM: In terms of how we are building, we are adding more staff. We are thrilled to have nine staff on our team right now. It has really exploded over the last month. In the primary, we spent tons of time on the trail campaigning from Chester [in northwestern Plumas County] to Bishop [in Inyo County]. We have our headquarters and field office in Rocklin, and I am sure we will expand our offices throughout the district in order to connect to voters from the northernmost part of the district to Placer to the southernmost county.

But this transition has been really natural for us, and our message will remain the same. On one side, we have a candidate who has always put service over self and people ahead of partisan politics. On the other side, you have an extremist who has never delivered on any results for his constituents.

S/P: Are you bracing for this race to get extremely expensive as it gets more and more interest?

MKM: I think most Congressional campaigns are extremely expensive nowadays, and it’s a stain on our democracy that it costs so much to be a competitive player. It dilutes the importance of voters’ voices. That is why we are proud of having the endorsement of End Citizens United because special interests have no place in politics. It’s also why we take no corporate PAC money.

S/P: You recently announced U.S. Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg’s political action committee endorsed Dr. Jones. This should help tap into Mayor Pete’s national fundraising base. Do you see access to broader fundraising bases ramping up more in the months to come?

MKM: We are very proud to have the endorsement of [Buttigieg’s] Win the Era PAC and the support of so many partners – local and national. But ultimately, this campaign is fueled by our in-district supporters and grassroots supporters, whether they are knocking on doors or donating $5. That’s what this campaign is fueled by.

S/P: Do you foresee President Biden or any national Democratic figures visiting the district and helping Dr. Jones out?

MKM: I think ultimately if this race becomes about national politics, it is bad for our district. I sincerely think this race and particularly our campaign is about highlighting the voices of people who are already doing the hard work and advocating for folks across the district. There is not a national politician who will come in and save either one of these campaigns. At the end of the day, it’s about communicating to voters that we have real solutions to the extreme wildfire seasons that we continue to be affected by; to the extreme price of healthcare; to the lack of care across the district.

Any national partners are welcome, but we’re proud of the robust grassroots operation we’re building already on the ground.

See’s November Q&A with Dr. Kermit Jones here.

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