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53rd congressional race: Homosexual slurs, libel lawsuits

This story was reported for the San Diego News Network on May 24, 2010.

See original copy of story.

Nasty campaigning is nothing new. But even by those low standards, things may have gone a bit too far in the Republican congressional primary.

At least that’s what the candidates themselves seem to be implying – with one even announcing his intention to sue another for libel. Another claims that a candidate has repeatedly and wrongly called him a “homosexual,” as if that were a smear.

All this in a race where demographics favor Democratic Rep. Susan Davis maintaining her seat.

“When the antics get this amateurish, it reflects on the credibility of the candidates,” said San Diego-based GOP consultant John Dadian. “It’s sad to see these fringe candidates running in the primaries when there is a heavy democrat registration in the district.”

Still, how ugly the race has gotten depends on who is being asked. Candidates Michael Crimmins and Matt Friedman both say pretty ugly. Another candidate C. Mason Weaver says not so ugly, even though Crimmins threatened to sue him after the June 8 primary. The fourth candidate, Mari Hamlin Fink, who has raised the most cash of the three candidates, didn’t respond to request for comment by SDNN.

The others had plenty to say, though.

“Only one candidate has attempted to make this race negative,” Crimmins said. “That candidate is Mason Weaver.”

For his part, Friedman described the race as “verbally violent” and blamed the “meanness” on Weaver, too.

But Weaver doesn’t seem to care about winning friends in the race, just votes. In a video made for his campaign website, he called Crimmins a “dirty old man,” “racist,” “disgrace” and “certified liar.” And at different events he was caught labeling Friedman “homosexual.” Weaver turned his attention to liberals on his Facebook page. In a stream of comments, he wrote, “You cannot change a liberal but you can chain him.”

In an e-mail exchange with SDNN, Weaver insisted, “This has not been a negative race!”

Crimmins, who won the 2008 Republican primary, is running on name recognition. His “Crimmins for Congress” signs can be seen throughout the congressional district and the veteran said he plans to win his second primary.

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Friedman is making his first run for Congress. The businessman who has started a clothing line and has ties to the entertainment industry, calls himself “the sleeping giant” and claims his opponents underestimate him. Friedman said he’s “93 percent” sure he’ll win the primary because his 350 volunteers have knocked on almost every door in the district.

Fink is the Point Loma community leader with plenty of support in her neighborhood. Friedman described her as “ethical and respectful” though she has yet to achieve same name recognition as her opponents.

Finally, there’s Weaver, who has stirred up so much controversy in the 53rd race, that there’s a website — Clarence Mason Weaver: Liar, unemployed, failed author and congressional candidate — for voters rooting against him. It is unclear who is behind the website.

Still, it isn’t a negative race if you ask Weaver. Not surprisingly, Crimmins and Freidman disagree.

As Crimmins put it, “Mason Weaver continues to weave a web of dirty politics and malicious lies.”

Crimmins said Weaver has lied on his resume, claiming, for instance, that he served as a combat veteran in Vietnam when he did not. Combat Veterans for Congress, a political action committee, later announced that Weaver was not a combat veteran.

Crimmins also said the African-American Weaver only called him a “racist” to “play the race card.”

A glance at the campaign numbers…

Mari Hamlin Fink is leading the race when it comes to campaign contributions.

According to the Federal Election Commission, Fink has raised $55, 319, Michael Crimmins has raised $37,175, Matt Friedman has raised $29,101 and C. Mason Weaver has raised $28,287.

Friedman agreed with his Crimmins. He said an uncomfortable amount of “meanness” has come from the Weaver for Congress camp and that it turns voters off from participating in politics at all.

“If [the voters] have already seen you exhibit the poorest of personality traits, why would they vote for you?” Friedman said. “[Weaver] claims he’s a Christian but he’s not acting very Christian, is he?”

The tension between the candidates has become so extreme that Crimmins now plans to sue Weaver .

“Lynn Schenk successfully sued Mayor Susan Golding for libel after their mayoral race and I will do the same with Mason Weaver,” he said.

There have been rumors that Friedman would also sue Weaver for his remarks, although Friedman’s camp said he is not.

Republican Party of San Diego Chairman Tony Krvaric declined commenting on the race. GOP consultant Dadian did though.

Dadian said he isn’t surprised by the ugliness. He says tight races often go negative, when candidates become desperate to set themselves apart from the pack.

“But not all campaigns get this vicious,” he said. “It’s unfortunate to see this happening in the Republican primary, particularly in the 53rd district.”

Hoa Quach is the political editor for the San Diego News Network.