Why you should care
Because this is a rare Republican pickup opportunity in 2018.
When Andrew Grant served as a Marine on a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, he and his fellow task force members came upon a curious phenomenon. Albanians returning to their previously occupied homes often burned off the roof, refusing to live under the same roof where a Serb once did — even if that meant exposing their families to a harsh winter. Grant recalls community meetings where he pleaded with the Albanians: “I know how strongly you feel, but somebody has got to turn a cheek here and show some grace.” Grant tells the story as he explains what it’s like to be a California Republican in this scorched-earth political era.
Running for Congress in a district outside Sacramento where Republicans see a rare opportunity to knock off a Democrat, the first-time candidate is considered a star recruit in Washington GOP circles: a youthful-looking 46, smart and serious, with a résumé straddling the military and intelligence worlds. The problem: California is Resistance HQ, Hillary Clinton won the district by 11 percentage points and people at times shut him out or “think I’m a jerk because I’m a Republican,” he says. Still, Grant seeks those folks out. Rather than hit the GOP club circuit, he’d prefer to meet with union members or left-leaning social justice groups to try to find common ground between America’s warring tribes. “I’m very comfortable being uncomfortable,” he says.
Born in 1971, Grant wasn’t raised in a military family (his father worked as an attorney), but he caught the bug in high school as a member of the Devil Pups — which he recalls as a quasi boot camp overseen by Marines and Navy corpsmen. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy and served as a Marine intelligence officer in the Pacific before moving to Washington to work for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and later at the Defense Intelligence Agency and the State Department. Grant became an expert on North Korea and started the first office to combat weapons of mass destruction terrorism. “He’s kind of one of those scholar-warriors,” says Monte Hawkins, who worked with Grant on an implementation plan for the National Counterterrorism Center, and was impressed with his personable style and driving work ethic.
Grant learned the ways of the opaque Kim regime, as well as the warrens of Capitol Hill, where he occasionally briefed members and staff on classified and unclassified matters. He was frequently disappointed by the people making critical decisions on the future of the armed forces who seemed to lack basic military knowledge and thought only of short-term politics.
Trump makes everyone’s life in politics more complicated right now, but I don’t think he makes my life harder.
He has no eureka idea to bring to Congress on how to contain Kim Jong Un, Grant says, but he understands the tricky regional balancing act among China, South Korea and Japan, and can lead on policy. He says Congress should get tougher in squeezing China for accepting North Korean exports, and the U.S. should get on the same page with South Korea — where a new liberal president has adopted a friendlier stance toward the North, undermining President Donald Trump’s tough approach.
Grant returned west with his family to work for the Department of Homeland Security before leaving government in 2010 to become an executive with Raley’s Supermarkets. He then spent 18 months at the helm of the Northern California World Trade Center, promoting the region’s businesses, before deciding to run against three-term Democratic incumbent Ami Bera, who has survived some of the nation’s tough congressional races before.
Bera’s backers say he’s politically battle-tested after pulling off a narrow win last year despite his father’s imprisonment for funneling Bera illegal campaign contributions. (Investigators did not find evidence that Bera knew of the scheme.) Though Grant is hyped in Washington, his $165,000 in early fundraising is “just OK” in the estimation of Kyle Kondik, an election forecaster at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “Ultimately he’ll need Clinton voters to want to send a Republican to Washington to reinforce President Trump in Congress,” says Kondik, who rates the race as “leans Democratic.” “That’s a hard sell, and the opposite of what midterm voters generally want to do when the president is unpopular.”
Grant says he has rejected advice to attack Bera for his father’s sins. He’d rather stack up their records, arguing that Bera has been too soft on North Korea and should not have backed the Iran nuclear deal.
Over breakfast at a diner in Elk Grove, where rural communities collide with suburban sprawl, Grant reveals he is not one for pithy sound bites. When asked whether he would have voted for the tax reform bill, he says, “I don’t know,” because he wants a lower corporate rate but has concerns about limiting deductions for Californians paying high state and local taxes. He’s the kind of guy who reads three newspapers a day and craves depth, who gets animated talking about how Congress has ceded war-powers authority to the executive branch. He wants to delve into the National Flood Insurance Program, lamenting that he can’t find a news outlet to run his op-ed on its shortcomings.
Married with three children, the thoughtful, measured candidate who devoted much of his life to government and military service professes a decidedly non-Trumpian moderate Republicanism, friendly to free trade, immigration (though with a stronger border) and gay marriage. “Trump makes everyone’s life in politics more complicated right now, but I don’t think he makes my life harder,” Grant says. “I’ve served my country for longer than Trump’s been in office, quite frankly.” The question is whether enough people in enough uncomfortable places will hear him out.