1st Supervisor District: The Phat Bui Campaign Money Pit

The biggest questions about the results of the upcoming June primary election in the 1st Supervisor District:

Will Supervisor Andrew Do get 50%-plus-1 of the vote and thereby avoid a November run-off?

Why is Garden Grove Councilman Phat Bui spending such enormous amounts of his own money on campaign that is barely registering in polling?

Even if Do fails to win it outright on June 7, there’s no reason he won’t come very, very close. He’s the incumbent. He has worked the district tirelessly. No one has given the voters a compelling reason or reasons to turn him out.

His opponents? True, Santa Ana Councilwoman Michele Martinez is on the city council of the district’s largest city. However, while Santa Ana comprises ___% of the district’s population, it harbors just ___% of its actual voters. She has only raised about $56,000 to date.

There was some speculation that a contested GOP presidential primary would spur a higher turn-out by Latino voters opposed to Trump’s inflammatory immigration rhetoric – to Martinez’s benefit. However, that GOP contest ended three weeks ago, and voters know it.  If Martinez is banking on the fabled “sleeping giant” of Latino voters to activate on her behalf, she is likely to be disappointed, because that particular sleeping giant has been hitting the snooze button on Election Day for years.

Vietnamese voters have become much more engaged and active in the last decade. They fueled the 1st and 2nd place finishes of Janet Nguyen and Trung Nguyen in the 1st Supervisor District special election in 2007 – a phenomenon which exploded the conventional wisdom that the election was between Tom Umberg and Carlos Bustamante (yes, it really was that long ago). The Vietnamese voter wave hasn’t abated: it was the expert harnessing of that vote by the Janet Nguyen political operation )of which Do was then an integral part) that propelled Do to victory over Lou Correa in last year’s 1st Supervisor District special election.

Even if one controls for the different and higher turnout model this June, if Do last year beat an opponent who was much better known to 1st District voters, it’s tough to see how an under-funded Santa Ana councilmember with a thin resume of accomplishments will finish anywhere strong in June to seriously threaten the now-incumbent Supervisor Do in November.

Money isn’t everything – as Phat Bui’s strange campaign can attest – but it counts for a lot when combined with an attractive candidate who has the advantage of incumbency, a top-notch campaign team (Gilliard Blanning and Associates) and the experience of success.  Do has raised spent $255,728 thus far on his re-election campaign. He reported $101,970 cash-on-hand as of April 23 and has reported raising another $21,800 since then. Furthermore, Do hasn’t loaned his campaign a dime in personal funds.

Phat Bui, The Loan King
Speaking of personal loans, Phat Bui has loaned his campaign $152,000 – representing 87% of his total campaign war chest. Only $22,832 of the 174,832 the Garden Grove councilman has raised was given by someone other than himself.  As of April 23, he had spent $89,838 – and if Bui has loaned himself $75,000 since then, it’s a safe bet his campaign expenditures are even higher.

What has 1st District race watchers scratching their heads is the question of where is Bui’s money going? According to sources on the ground, the Bui campaign has sent out only two mail pieces. According to his January 1-April 23 campaign report, he has spent funds on radio ads and quite a bit on slates. Plus, more than $30,000 on polling and his campaign consultant is the very expensive Forde & Mollrich shop.  However, it is incredible for a campaign to spend so much money and communicate so little with voters.

If you asked most people what they would do if they had $150,000 to burn, few if any would say they’d spend it on a doomed campaign for county supervisor. Perhaps Bui’s two campaign polls indicate he has a chance. Every other poll puts him in low single digits. In these circumstances, the candidate is either 1) delusional about his or her chances 2) just doesn’t care about the money or 3) they aren’t running to win and believe the effort will be rewarded one way or another.

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