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After women accuse mayor of harassment, GOP sees opening in San Diego

If San Diego Mayor Bob Filner resigns amid mounting sexual harassment allegations, his former opponent, Republican Carl DeMaio, could look at the race, but would rob the GOP of a top congressional recruit.
/ Source: MSNBC TV

If San Diego Mayor Bob Filner resigns amid mounting sexual harassment allegations, his former opponent, Republican Carl DeMaio, could look at the race, but would rob the GOP of a top congressional recruit.

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, shown here during his time as a U.S. House Democrat, in Washington, May 6, 2008. (Photo by Charles Dharapak/AP)

In the wake of mounting sexual harassment allegations against San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, the former congressman is remaining defiant that he won’t step down.

Republicans see the flood of accusations against the newly elected Democratic mayor as not just a good news cycle for them, but believe it could help them in a neighboring congressional race that will be a top target for both parties in 2014.

The 52nd District takes in much of San Diego’s western suburbs and parts of the city. Last year, Democrat Scott Peters toppled longtime GOP Rep. Brian Bilbray. But Republicans have made the race a top priority, and have recruited moderate Republican Carl DeMaio, a former city councilman who lost to Filner last year. The openly gay businessman and government reform advocate spent over $3 million in that race and won portions of the city in the 52nd District.

Republicans and Democrats both privately admit that forcing Filner from office won’t be easy, even after damaging accusations continue to surface. On Monday, former supporters of Filner’s released details of his alleged sexual assault, including forcibly kissing two constituents and grabbing a staff member’s breasts. The mayor allegedly told two women their work would be better “if they worked without their panties on” and women coined phrases “the Filner headlock” and “the Filner dance” to describe the unwanted advances.

His alleged tawdry behavior has cost Filner his fiancee, too. After breaking their long engagement last week, Bronwyn Ingram  said she caught Filner sending sexually explicit text messages to other women and making dates. And while she said she didn’t know if the new allegations are true, Ingram told KPBS on Sunday she believed Filner should step down.

Filner admitted last week to treating women on his staff badly and said he would seek professional help and apologize to women he may have offended, but he did not agree with the accusations made against him.

“I’m not going to resign, and here’s why,” Filner said in a statement. “As your elected mayor, I fully expect to be accountable to the citizens of San Diego for all of my actions. But as a citizen of this country, I also expect–and am entitled to–due process, and the opportunity to respond in a fair and impartial venue to specific allegations. I do not believe I am guilty of sexual harassment, and I believe a full presentation of the facts will vindicate me.”

But, as the calls for Filner to resign continue to grow, there’s also worry among Republicans that if he does step aside, or is removed from office, DeMaio could run in a special election and leave them without a recruit in the important Congressional race.

While Republicans don’t believe that will be DeMaio’s ultimate decision, several GOP sources admit the former mayoral candidate would likely consider a mayoral bid again. The 52nd District went 52% for President Obama in 2012, and both public and private polls have already shown a close race brewing between Filner and Peters. DeMaio reported raising $483,000 in the first month of his campaign, while Peters raised $362,000 over the past three months for the quarter.

DeMaio said in a statement last week he “appreciate[d] the emails and calls” he had received from supporters in the wake of the controversy surrounding Filner and that he was “listening.” But he stopped short of saying he would be interested in a vacancy. DeMaio said the “evidence [was] mounting that Bob Filner is simply incapable of leading our city” and that “San Diego deserves better.”

While DeMaio may look closely at the contest, Republicans also believe the mayor will continue to be adamant in his refusal to step aside. There’s no impeachment procedure, and the recall threshold is high. To begin the process, petitioners would have to collect nearly 102,000 ballot signatures in 39 days, and really would need about 130,000 signatures to make sure enough were valid.

Republicans don’t want to overplay their hand, though, and local leaders say they are content to let the bad headlines play out. Democrats have pushed back, and say they won’t let Republicans hang the Filner scandal around Peters’ neck. But national Republicans have been eager to hit Peters for not calling on Filner to resign, after fellow Democratic Rep. Susan Davis was one of the first to call for him to step down.

On Monday, though, Peters issued a statement saying he had called Filner on Friday to discuss the allegations and left him a voicemail asking him to step down. After never hearing back from the mayor, he publicly issued a call for his resignation.

“Apart from these legal questions, the pain and humiliation these women have suffered is undeniable and inexcusable, and these women, who did nothing wrong, have my full support,” said Peters. “If the Mayor truly cares about the causes he has so long and effectively championed…then he needs to step aside and let someone without this tremendous cloud hanging above him take the City’s reins.”