In 2018 Eric Swalwell had a more conventionally formidable challenger than he’d faced in 2016 with Danny Reid Turner. 2018’s Republican candidate Rudy L. Peters Jr. would do the door-to-door canvassing Turner had left unfinished, and Peters also had a budget to speak of even though minuscule in relation to Swalwell’s own. Nonetheless, the 2018 race did not turn out significantly better for Republicans than in 2016. Peters bitterly recalled in an interview I conducted with him:

“I spent about 55 grand of my own money and I want to say I took in about 30 to 40 thousand and I didn’t do any better than people that didn’t spend any more than the registration fee.”

The circumstance remains a mystery to Peters and does beg some questions. How could Danny Turner, with a budget of only one thousand dollars, and only a severely truncated effort canvassing neighborhoods, have nearly matched Peters’ percentage of votes? Turner had a possible explanation for Peters’ muted performance:

“I think if it wasn’t 2018, my hunch is he probably would have been above 30 percent just because the turnout numbers were very, very high for a midterm election. With Trump being on the ticket, it was just not a good year for Republicans in many areas.” 

It has to be taken into account, however, that Turner did not appear to me to be a fan of Trump and might write off any positive effect Trump could have in affecting races of Republicans supportive of his vision. To recall an observation at variance to Turner’s, Carl Paladino in an interview I conducted with him for a previous article expressed disbelief that a candidate such as Trump who inspired such visible enthusiasm among voters could have experienced anything other than a largely positive effect at the polls:

“You just feel so confident about it (a Trump win in 2020) because not only your republican friends but your democrat friends are all talking about Trump. Everybody’s talking about Trump. The signs go up in front of the houses, up and down the street. And I live in a democratic area in south Buffalo, and the Trump signs were all over. And then election day comes, and you say, ‘Wow, what happened?’ And then you hear all the stories. People signing affidavits. You, at least, have a prima facie case to question the vote.”

Rudy Peters did question his election results though stopped short of the suggestion of election-rigging (“I’m not much into this conspiracy thing, but what puzzles me is…”), only noting that there was something inexplicable to him in the final tallies. He said in our interview:

“So the two people that ran after Eric was elected; they didn’t spend any money; they didn’t do anything. I actually put up some money, my own money; I had a pretty good website, Facebook page and I tried to get out, and I walked neighborhoods every weekend, went to tons of events, then this lunatic tries to stab me, so I’m getting a lot more press, I’m bringing in more money — which is sad — out of state than I am in state. Well, when you go back and look at the results, the 2014, 2016, and 2018 when I ran, and 2020, when you look at them, they’re almost exactly the same results. I could have done absolutely nothing and got the same outcome. And I thought, man, that just can’t be right because… had I been knocking on doors, and at these events and people were just telling me get out of here, we can’t stand you, I can see that, but man, it was very positive when I ran.”

You may have caught that line about Peters nearly being stabbed. We’ll get to that in a minute if you don’t already know about it. Peters also felt he made a concerted effort to court democrat voters, a subject which came up a number of times during our talk:

“So in that district, the democrats pretty much outnumber the registered republicans almost two to one. The ‘no party preference’ was actually the second-largest party in my district, so I knew I needed democrats to vote for me to win. So what I did I would tell democrats — we’d get into debates — I’d walk neighborhoods, every single week I’d walk Saturdays and Sundays all day — Hayward, San Lorenzo, Livermore, Fremont — and not precinct walking. I didn’t know who was going to answer the door, what party they aligned themselves with. So my point with democrats would be, ‘Look, if you can name…’ – especially someone getting a little mouthy with me – ‘If you can name one single thing Eric Swalwell has done for this district, I’ll quit and pull out immediately,’ and nobody could ever name anything. The only thing he ever did was name a post office in Hayward.” 

Republican candidate Rudy Peters Jr. is photographed in Walnut Creek, Calif., on Monday, April 30, 2018. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

Peters felt he connected with potential voters and had a bizarre collection of hurdles to overcome, although not attributable to Swalwell. However, one of those could have only benefited his campaign, the attempted stabbing which I’ll build to. Peters’ first challenge had to do with voter information guides Californians use to compare candidates. Payments by candidates to be included in such booklets are handled by each individual county and as the 15th congressional district falls in parts of two counties some fees would have to be paid to both Alameda County and Contra Costa County if someone running in the 15th district expected to appear in both booklets. Peters explained his first roadblock:

“The problem in California is if I’m in two different counties I have to pay in Alameda — it was about 10,000 dollars just to put one paragraph in that book — in Contra Costa I want to say it was 3,500 bucks. So anyway, I thought I had a pretty good chance of getting through the primaries, so in the general election I spent the money and put my bio in there. Well, all of a sudden, I get a call, and someone says I got my Contra Costa Voters’ Guide, and you’re not in it. I said, you’re kidding me. So I go, and sure enough, I’m not in it even though I went up, paid and delivered it, they gave me e-mail confirmation, they forgot to put me in the book. I called, raised a little hell, and they sent an amendment out, and I said that’s not going to do anything, most people grab those books; that’s what they use when going vote. Are they going to remember to take that piece of paper that showed up and stick it in there?” 

If you’re thinking that Peters’ missing bio in one of two booklets could have accounted for his doing less well than Turner against Swalwell, I wondered the same thing, and I asked Turner if he’d paid to be included in the booklets. He replied that he did not. So the fact that Peters was included in even one of the two booklets and Turner in neither makes the percentage of the votes received in Peters’ race relative to Turner’s more — not less – a mystery.

The second of Peters’ hurdles would fall squarely in the category of “News of the Weird,” and Peters would not ascribe any possible bad political intent to it. Of his having his tires slashed and his vehicle stolen during the campaign, he only said:

“No, I don’t know who punctured my tires and I don’t think that was related even though it happened during my time running. I don’t believe it had anything to do with me running for office. I’ve got a motor home and a race car trailer and somebody came through and with like a pick busted my tires. I’ve lived there in that same house for 25 years never had a problem and actually, somebody stole my truck and backed it into a CVS and stole an ATM machine. Do I think Eric had anything to do with that, no.”

The third of Peters’ trials would seem to have been a blessing in disguise if an attempt on your life can be seen as having an upside. It was the kind of event I imagine some politicians would give their eye teeth for (assuming their assured survival of the event) though Peters wasn’t one of them. He said:

  “When that lunatic tried to kill me, the only people I told were my wife and my son, who’s a cop. I didn’t say a word because I didn’t want someone thinking, ‘Ah, he’s using this to try to get some momentum.’ I didn’t say a word. It happened on a Sunday and then when the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department kind of released that on their website — I guess like a little police blog up there – I mean, it blew up. What was interesting is this gentleman that tried to stab me; his mom is one of the officers on the board of the Castro Valley Democratic Party. She was there. It was one of those fall harvest festivals. They had people there selling crafts, typical of one of those downtown where-they-block-off-the-streets fairs. The democrat party had a booth there, and his mother was at that booth, and he had been at that booth on and off all day. I thought it was very interesting that he came down there and started this mess.”

The upshot of the incident would mean an appearance by Peters on Fox News that would increase donations to his campaign, but there was, let’s not forget, actual wild heroism which should by rights have turned some new voters onto him. The incident began with a cup holding pens turned into a projectile. Peters ran through the episode with me:

“It was the last day (of the fair) on a Sunday, like 3 o’clock. There was another gentleman with me who was running for assembly district, and all of a sudden, we heard this person scream, ‘F Donald Trump, Fuck Donald Trump’, as loud as he could, and we just sat there looking at him. He didn’t say a word, not to me, and he was kind of walking by and all of a sudden he stops and says, ‘I’ll show you’, and he kind of bum-rushes the table so we jump up and he grabs — like we had a cup-like an old glass coffee cup with ink pens in it. We tried to sign up voters. We had a bunch of voter registration cards. He picks that cup up and I’m trying to come around that table. I don’t know what he’s going to do. He throws it, it hits the ground and breaks. I grab him, throw him down. I had him on the ground, I didn’t hit him, I didn’t kick him, I didn’t do anything, and then I got off of him and he jumped up, pulled out a knife, and screamed, ‘I’m going to kill you’, but he couldn’t. It was a switchblade. He couldn’t get the blade open thank goodness because I thought if this lunatic gets this knife deployed — Somebody had a sign there — like a sandwich board sign — and then I kind of grabbed that and then finally somebody broke it up.” 

You can add the attention garnered from the incident to the many bullet points suggesting Peters would do better against Swalwell than Swalwell’s prior two challengers had. And yet none of it in the final tally mattered, not publicity from the attempt on Peters’ life, not the neighborhood canvassing, not the money spent. Turner took 26.2 percent of the vote in 2016, Peters 27 percent in 2018.

If you’re of the mind that election rigging is a ridiculous suggestion, and that Sidney Powell and Giuliani are on a fool’s errand, and that the election results in the 15th district certainly must be valid, what would your prescription be to make republicans competitive in such a district? Considering how a widely divergent set of candidates have run against Swalwell but have seen their election percentages only vary between 26.2 and 30.2?

Danny Turner had an unusual suggestion. Understand though that Turner is a man whose political stances are built upon numbers, polls, statistics, but as such can lead to places less mathematical minds might never arrive. Turner’s suggestion elicited my laughter, not because I found the thought ridiculous but because I could see the pieces of the equation adding up to his total before he’d finished explaining. Turner offered his prescription for California:

“The premise is that as a party, there are only so many resources in terms of campaign dollars and volunteer time, so my argument was that we should not do anything at the state level, so no assembly, no state legislature, put all of the resources into competitive house races that can either be held or won back and then on top of that, at the state legislative level, as a party go out and support the most left-leaning candidate possible. So if you have a moderate democrat and a far left, the whole republican party in that area should be voting for the far left. And why would you do that?

Here’s the deal, we will give the folks exactly what they think they want, and one of two things will happen: Either we will be proven wrong, and it will work — I don’t put the odds of that very high — so what I think more likely is if we do this for a couple of election cycles, you’ll make it the socialist utopia everyone thinks it is, watch that collapse. In ten years we could be relevant at the state level again.

“Because if not, it’s just going to be a slow burn, and it’s going to get to that blue state anyway, and we’ll probably get to that collapsed state as well, but it will probably take twenty or thirty years rather than ten.”