The last big thing at the weekly rallies outside U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa’s Vista field office was a 20-foot-tall inflatable chicken with Trump-inspired hair. This Tuesday’s guest was a much bigger deal, surely the biggest to date.
Tom Steyer, the billionaire Democratic activist funding an ad campaign calling to impeach President Trump, told the crowd — many in Halloween garb — that he would work with them to unseat the nine-term Republican congressman, who has been labeled vulnerable.
“We are going to go door to door in this district to make sure every citizen gets a chance to hear what Darrell Issa stands for, and what the alternatives are,” Steyer said before leading the crowd in a chant of “I believe that we will win.”
Issa was not around; Congress was in session Tuesday. Asked to comment on Steyer’s appearance at the Vista rally, Issa spokesperson Calvin Moore called the San Francisco resident “an out-of-touch extremist.”
“The 49th District isn’t the San Francisco Bay Area,” Moore said in an email. “Millions of Californians are finding it harder to make ends meet thanks to Steyer-backed policies that have driven up the costs of gasoline, electricity and the goods and services families rely on every day.
“Instead of soapboxing outside our office, he should head back home to San Francisco where voters are more receptive to his extreme agenda.”
Ellen Montanari, who has organized the Vista rallies since January, said Steyer approached her a few weeks ago about making an appearance.
Steyer, who made his fortune as a hedge fund manager, is the president of NextGen America, a nonprofit advocacy group targeting issues such as immigration, climate and healthcare.
NextGen announced earlier this month that it was teaming with the California Labor Federation and a handful of voter outreach groups to create Uniting California, a mobilization effort targeting voters in the districts of seven potentially vulnerable Republican California congressman, including Issa.
In November 2016, Issa won re-election by a razor-thin margin, just 1,621 votes, in what was the closest congressional race in the country. Issa backed Trump, but the district voted for Hillary Clinton. The 49th District includes parts of coastal North County and south Orange County.
The rallies appear to be among the larger sustained weekly protests outside a congressional field office since the inauguration, and Steyer said they have caught the attention among Democratic activists.
“I think what the people are doing here is sustaining a level of commitment and intensity that is awesome,” he said. “It’s just fantastic.”
Inspired by Halloween, some protesters donned political-statement costumes. Among them were at least six cloaked “handmaids” (a coordinated effort between rally organizers), three Ruth Bader Ginsburgs, two Lady Justice statues and one briefcase-carrying Robert Mueller with handcuffs, a nod to the special counsel investigating allegations of Russian interference in the November 2016 election.
Tuesday’s crowd looked to be about 250 to 300 people; rally organizers pegged the size at more than 600 people. Another 15 or so counter-protesters stood across the street, and with a sound system, tried to drown out Steyer’s address.
In recent days, Steyer has been the face of a self-funded $10 million ad campaign to impeach Trump. On Tuesday, after the first 10 days of the effort, the campaign announced that it had gathered upwards of 1.1 million signatures backing it.
Steyer said the measure of success has been the response.
“We have seen that actually people are searching for a way to take action against this administration,” he said, “and signing onto this campaign is a way to put your voice together with millions of other Americans to say that this has got to change.”
The push has not gone unnoticed by Trump, who took to Twitter last week to denounce Steyer as “wacky and totally unhinged.”
Steyer’s name has been tossed about as a potential candidate for political office, including a run for California governor or U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein’s seat. Asked if he was going to run for office, Steyer first said he is not ruling anything out. Later, asked again, he replied simply, “I don’t know.”