Some candidates go down swinging. It looks like Andy Caldwell went down flailing.
I am sad to report that Andy Caldwell, Santa Barbara’s reigning right-wing buzz saw, has intimated, suggested, otherwise implied, and all but said he might have lost his bid to unseat two-term Democratic Congressmember Salud Carbajal because of voter fraud.
In reality, he lost because he never had a chance.
Caldwell, to be clear, also never came out and explicitly stated he lost because the voting machines bought by Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties were created by a company started by the late left-wing Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. But he may as well have. Nor did Caldwell technically embrace the ravings of a Trump-toting conspiracy monger — attorney Sidney Powell — who is so extreme that even Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and the Trump campaign itself felt compelled to distance themselves from her in press statements this past weekend. But he all but did.
I have always admired Caldwell if for nothing else his raw stamina. Every week for the past 29 years, he shows up at the county supervisors meeting, having discovered for each one yet another reason to be both outraged and outrageous. His is always the voice of business and commerce against the latest perfidies hatched by pie-eyed know-nothings and acolytes of left-wing save-the-world do-gooders. His rhetorical pitch frequently teeters on the verge of hair-on-fire. There’s never any actual flames, but when he steps away from the podium, there’s frequently an aroma of burnt hair in the room.
Caldwell’s genius has been to do this week after week, year after year, while typically maintaining a credible semblance of good cheer.
This time, Andy went a little too far. Even for Andy.
In a Facebook post, Caldwell cited attorney Sidney Powell’s charge that Dominion voting machines throughout the country were somehow programmed to give Democratic candidates 35,000 votes they don’t have coming. “What would this mean in my race against Salud?” Caldwell asked. “I would have beat him.”
Laying out his case, he added, “IF there was fraud, you would expect there would be a noticeable “bump” over the past years.” He then noted that Carbajal got 208,000 votes in 2020 as opposed to 166,000 in the previous two races. “Of the overall increase in voter turnout from the last four years, he received 96 percent of the increase!!!”
He concludes with “What do you think about that?”
I think Andy made the mistake of running as a Trump Mini-Me against Carbajal, a popular moderate in a solidly Blue district in an election when voters of all stripes thought the fate of Western civilization hung in the balance.
More people voted in this election than in any other election ever.
Caldwell, who had never run for office before, had to figure out a campaign strategy in the time of COVID. Fat chance. Carbajal, by contrast, qualifies as a one-man political machine and a prodigious — if at times shameless — fundraiser. Carbajal has also been running for office most of his entire adult life.
Under any scenario, it never would have been close. This year, it was destined to be even less so.
In elections past, Carbajal twice creamed his Republican opponent Justin Fareed by about seven points. And Fareed, a former high school football star, had little political profile of relevance to county voters. By contrast, Carbajal didn’t merely cream Caldwell; he obliterated Andy by 17 points.
Maybe I’d be looking for conspiracy theories, too.
Lastly, even if Dominion election machines were giving Democrats an additional 35,000 votes — just as Powell said they were — it still wouldn’t have been enough for Caldwell. He lost by 42,000 votes.
I asked county Elections czar Joe Holland about Powell’s allegations about Dominion elections machines. “Did you happen to see the press conference where she spoke?” he asked, alluding to the now infamous event at which she was presented as part of “an elite strike force” that would expose the wholesale voter fraud that was stealing the election from Trump. “She was the one who said Dominion was created in Venezuela by Hugo Chavez,” he said with understated incredulity. “I get asked that question. It’s not even worth answering, it’s so absurd,” Holland said. “Hugo Chavez has been dead seven years!”
To be fair, Caldwell never says he thinks Powell is actually right. He just asks — disingenuously — what “IF” she were. And then, he answers his own question by pointing out the size of Carbajal’s big bump. And then asking “What do you think about that?”
What I think is this: Election fraud is a serious accusation to make. If you have any evidence, then put it up. If you don’t, then shut the hell up. It’s not something to get cute about. Given the strange and abiding power exerted by the cult of Trump, what we really don’t need right now is 70 million people believing Biden somehow stole an election that he overwhelmingly won. We have serious problems we need to address right away, so wasting energy arguing whether the sky is blue or green is a luxury we can’t afford.
To the extent Caldwell had any specifics, it was to wonder how UCSB students living at home in Oakland or Italy managed to cast ballots in Santa Barbara County elections. Holland spoke with Caldwell and explained that UCSB students who remained in their homes of origin because of the pandemic were legally entitled to request absentee ballots. And that’s exactly what Holland said happened.
Dominion election machines, by the way, are used in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo counties. It’s worth noting that Republican incumbent Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham — whose district includes parts of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties — somehow managed to eke out a comfortable victory even though his votes were tallied on the same Dominion voting machines that were vomiting out 35,000 votes on behalf of Democratic candidates. I could point out that a couple of Republican or Republican-backed candidates running for the County Board of Education also managed to win with impressively large margins despite the voting machines having been “rigged.”
Calling Caldwell out has been Cory Bantilan, 5th District County Supervisor Steve Lavagnino’s aide-de-camp. At any other time in history both Lavagnino and Bantilan would have been Republicans — and, in fact, they were — but both re-registered as decline-to-states in reaction to Trumpism. Lavagnino, in spite of his no-party preference, publicly supported Caldwell in his campaign against Carbajal and went so far as to appear at Caldwell’s kick-off rally. Bantilan, though clearly a moderate, ran the unsuccessful mayoral campaign a few years back for Frank Hotchkiss — a get-off-my-lawn Republican who served two terms on the Santa Barbara City Council when not otherwise engaged writing steamy potboilers that would the peel the paint off your grandmother’s ceiling.
“What do I think?” Bantilan replied to Caldwell. “I think this post is dangerous, divisive, and a threat to democracy in America. I think you are purposefully and desperately spreading a conspiracy theory to try to explain why you performed so poorly.”
Caldwell replied, “Actually I don’t care what you think Cory. You helped Das Williams but you wouldn’t help me.”
What do I think? I think it’s bad enough we have a daily newspaper owner who so hates Biden that she had the front page headline declaring Biden victorious re-written the following day to un-declare that victory. I think it’s sad — and scary — that our own conservative leaders are willing to embrace the most magical of delusions to deny the obvious.
Why stop there? Why not UFO abductions?
Andy, take a cold shower. Towel off. Take a deep breath.
Next time someone asks about voter fraud, say, “Put up or shut up.”
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