Politics & Government

California House campaign 'hopeless,' ex-adviser declares

WASHINGTON — Republican Mike Berryhill's struggling San Joaquin Valley congressional campaign is now being body slammed by the man who says he was supposed to run it.

In an extraordinary political flip, GOP political activist John D. Villarreal is declaring Berryhill's campaign a lost cause less than a month after being hired as a top Berryhill campaign operator.

"I'm not trying to sink his campaign. I don't need to," Villarreal said in an interview Wednesday. "It's already sunk."

Hammering the point home with unusual aggressiveness, Villarreal on Tuesday posted about 40 minutes worth of videos on YouTube denouncing his one-time allies on the Berryhill campaign. Villarreal says he posted the video explanations in order to protect his own reputation.

A former Turlock Irrigation District director and a member of one of the Valley's most prominent political families, Berryhill is challenging Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced. Cardoza has held the 18th Congressional District seat since 2003.

The district is split roughly evenly between San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties, with a sliver inside Fresno County. Though Democrats enjoy a voter registration advantage, Republicans note the district has a distinctly moderate cast.

The nephew of a former state senator, and cousin of two members of the Legislature, Berryhill's name identification and community involvement helped initially boost his prospects, but he has since lagged far behind Cardoza by all traditional measures of political momentum.

Berryhill reported raising only $49,667 from others since his campaign began, according to his most recent campaign filing. Cardoza reported raising $805,409. The national Republican Party has essentially steered clear of the Berryhill effort.

"I don't think they have a chance," Villarreal said Wednesday. "That campaign is going nowhere."

Berryhill could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Randy Brown, who described himself as the communications director for the Berryhill campaign, said Wednesday that "overall, I'm kind of" managing the campaign now, but he deferred to Berryhill for further comment.

Mike Lynch, a Cardoza political adviser, declined to comment on the record about the latest shakeup in the Berryhill campaign, though he did not seem displeased.

"The best measure of a candidate is when they face each other, one on one," Lynch said. "By that standard, Dennis is doing very well."

By the standard of keeping a campaign on track, Berryhill is doing poorly.

Berryhill's first campaign manager was Carl Fogliani. During Fogliani's tenure, Berryhill repeatedly loaned his campaign hundreds of thousands of dollars immediately prior to a campaign reporting deadline; once the deadline passed, Berryhill paid himself back.

Fogliani left the campaign; he could not be reached Wednesday. Berryhill then signed a contract to have Villarreal run the campaign on Aug. 6, Villarreal said. On one of the four YouTube videos he posted Tuesday, he displays the contract.

A combative 39-year-old graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law, as well as a former rugby player and judo practitioner, Villarreal says he expected to take full control of the Berryhill campaign. He says he wanted to emphasize new social media, instead of "the same playbook" such as mass mailings and phone banks.

On Aug. 12, Villarreal said, the Berryhill campaign advised him that Randy Brown would be the campaign manager. Villarreal said this amounted to a breach of contract. He says he has since been in e-mail contact with Berryhill about settling pay and expenses for his work in August.

"I like Mike and I like his wife," Villarreal said, adding, "It's just sad."


John D. Villarreal leaves the Mike Berryhill for Congress Campaign (Part 1)

John D. Villarreal leaves the Mike Berryhill for Congress Campaign (Part 2)

John D. Villarreal leaves the Mike Berryhill for Congress Campaign (Part 3)

John D. Villarreal leaves the Mike Berryhill for Congress Campaign (Part 4 - Final)