By Tony Castro, Voxxi

Who is newly elected California Congresswoman Gloria Negrete McLeod and why is New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg sticking his nose into a political race on the other side of the country?

Bloomberg’s Super PAC appears to have been the determining factor in Negrete McLeod’s upset of seven-term incumbent Rep. Joe Baca in the 35th Congressional District in a battle of Democrats in the San Bernardino area.

Negrete McLeod’s campaign apparently got more than $3 million pumped into the race by Bloomberg’s USA Super PAC, evidently because Bloomberg was unhappy with Baca’s record on gun control laws.

In its mission statement, Bloomberg’s PAC says its purpose is to focus on candidates who are tough on gun control and education policy.

Bloomberg’s involvement in the race has begun questions from California media

“The cash infusion paid for a network television advertising campaign supporting Negrete McLeod and opposing Baca,” wrote Riverside Press-Enterprise blogger Ben Goad, who wondered why Bloomberg was “directing such a large some to a distant congressional race while his constituents were reeling from the effects of Hurricane Sandy.”

“It’s quite possible that the mayor of New York determined the outcome in this race, and separated Joe Baca from his congressional seat,” the Los Angeles Daily News said in an unsigned opinion story Wednesday.

On Wednesday, too, Bloomberg’s Super PAC took credit for Negrete McLeod’s victory as one of 19 victories and seven losses among the candidates and causes it backed.

In Negrete McLeod’s campaign, the Bloomberg PAC claimed victory against the National Rifle Association lobby with her election. Before the Bloomberg PAC’s involvement, a spokesperson said, McLeod had low name-recognition and was polling at 30 percent.

Baca apparently became a target of the Bloomberg PAC because of his B-plus rating by the NRA and consistent pro-gun rights voting record. Since 1999, when Baca first ran for Congress, the NRA has named him as one of its “Defenders of Freedom.”

In contrast, the NRA has historically given an “F” rating to almost all other California Democrats in Congress.

“There has never really been an effective counterweight to the NRA—at least in terms of dollars, cents and the ability to get a message out,” said Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for Bloomberg’s new super PAC, Independence USA.

“I think the mayor’s been clear this is an issue he cares very passionately about and this could very well be a curtain-raiser to the future.”

One of the ads Bloomberg’s Super PAC bought read, “Congressman Baca voted to allow sex offenders and suspected terrorist to bring concealed weapons into California.”

In the final days, Baca fired back

“Doesn’t Mayor Michael Bloomberg have more important things to worry about than a congressional district in California?” Baca said at a news conference.

“I think all of this money would better be spent on hurricane victims …This is a disgusting last minute attempt to deceive the voter as we near the elections.”

It is significant that before the Bloomberg entry into the campaign Negrete McLeod—a veteran member of the State Senate—was a major underdog in the race and had raised barely more than $200,000 in contributions, roughly a third of Baca’s campaign war chest.

Baca also had the lion’s share of major endorsements, including those of the state and national Democratic parties and even President Barack Obama.

In the June primary, Baca led with 45 percent of the vote compared to 36 percent for Gloria Negrete McLeod, but the two Democrats were thrown into a fall showdown by California’s new top-two primary system allowing candidates from the same party to compete in general elections.

But the 35th Congressional District was a newly drawn political entity that may have benefitted Negrete McLeod, since it included more than 80 percent of her senate district. In contrast, the redrawn congressional district contained only about 58 percent of Baca’s former district.

“New district, new representation, new voice,” Negrete McLeod said. “I feel I am more community oriented, more cognizant of local issues.”

This article was first published in Voxxi.

Los Angeles-based writer Tony Castro is the author of the critically-acclaimed “Chicano Power: The Emergence of Mexican America” and the best-selling “Mickey Mantle: America’s Prodigal Son.”

[Photo courtesy]

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