It started with a ‘boo’ shouted in Iowa.
It ended with a Democratic congressional candidate from Murrieta deleting her campaign Facebook page while at least one prominent labor organization rescinded its endorsement of her.
Regina Marston, who’s one of two Democrats running against incumbent Republican Rep. Ken Calvert in California’s 42nd Congressional District, has found herself in hot water after a tweet she sent in response to a prominent national Democratic figure.
The 42nd covers a swath of rural and suburban Riverside County, stretching from Murrieta to Corona to Beaumont.
It is one of the most conservative districts in a state that hasn’t given its electoral votes to a Republican since 1988 — Donald Trump won by 12 points here in 2016, compared to a 30 point loss across the rest of California.
Calvert, who won in 2018 with 56% of the vote, even as several districts in historically red Orange County flipped blue, is facing two Democratic challengers in the March 3 primary: Marston, a former public relations professional, and Chapman University adjunct professor Liam O’Mara.
Given the Republican tilt of the 42nd, neither O’Mara or Marston is likely to beat Calvert. But that hasn’t stopped the campaign to be Calvert’s Democratic opponent from getting interesting.
California’s top two primary system means that in the March 3 primary, it’s likely one of the two Democrats will be eliminated, and the one who isn’t will go on to face Calvert in the general election.
Marston is quite active on Twitter — since starting her campaign account in June 2019, she’s already posted more than 16,000 tweets as of Feb. 13.
On Jan. 31, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-MI, was filmed booing Hillary Clinton at a campaign event in Iowa in support of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, after the moderator at the event referenced Clinton’s comments about how “nobody likes” Sanders.
Responding to someone in the audience, the moderator said: “We’re not gonna boo, we’re not gonna boo, we’re classy here.”
Tlaib responded: “Oh no, I’ll boo,” eliciting some cheers.
The next day, though, Tlaib posted a series of tweets apologizing for her comments at the event, saying that she is “frustrated by attempts to dismiss the strength and diversity of our movement” but that she “know(s) what is at stake if we don’t unify over one candidate to beat Trump and I intend to do everything possible to ensure that Trump does not win in 2020.”
“I will continue to strive to come from a place of love and not react in the same way of those who are against what we are building in this country,” Tlaib said in one of her tweets. “This is about building a just and equitable future for my two boys, children across the country, and future generations.”
Marston gave a reply from her campaign Twitter account to Tlaib’s thread.
“Girl, you need a crisis PR firm and an ego check. Get back to us when you’ve gotten both,” Marston said.
Another Twitter user, though, took issue with Marston’s phrasing.
“Can we not call a grown WoC ‘girl’?” user @disco_socialist shot back at Marston. The acronym WoC refers to “woman of color” — what the Twitter user was referencing is the historic use of “girl” and “boy” by whites to disparage blacks and other ethnic groups. Tlaib is Palestinian-American.
Marston, who would later say she did not intend her tweet to be interpreted as racist, was unapologetic in her response.
“I call everyone girl. It’s a term of endearment in the South,” Marston, who graduated from college in Florida, said. “Have a great day, boy!”
That response didn’t go over well, either.
At least one Twitter user urged anyone reading Marston’s responses, which they described as “ignorant racism,” to donate to O’Mara.
Since then, Marston told Valley News she’s had “over 3,000 troll accounts” follow and harass her on Twitter, prompting her to set her Twitter account to private for a period of a few days, as well as take down her campaign’s Facebook page.
She says she’s even received death threats over social media, though she declined to turn over copies of those messages.
“I cannot give you the screenshots because they’ve been submitted to the FBI,” Marston said via telephone Feb. 10.
Reached for comment, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Los Angeles office, Laura Eimiller, said the agency could not divulge whether Martson reported the alleged threats, or whether there was an investigation.
Many of the “trolls,” Marston insists, are supporters of O’Mara.
O’Mara, on the other hand, says he had nothing to do with any of the Twitter users targeting Marston.
“… As the full record and chronology shows, I had nothing to do with anything that happened,” he said in a Twitter direct message on Feb. 11. “I benefited from it to the extent that people looked up her opponent and donated to me as a repudiation of her. That is all.”
But the bad blood between the two, it turns out, stretches back months.
Marston claims O’Mara publicly disparaged her and her husband as “drunks” several months ago, and said they are suing O’Mara, though she again would not provide documentation of a lawsuit.
“I’m not allowed to go around Liam O’Mara, I’m not allowed to be in the same room as Liam O’Mara,” Marston said. “I think he’s a freak.”
O’Mara flatly denied insulting Marston publicly, calling it something “which I have patently never done.”
“I’ve not run a negative campaign at any point,” he said.
O’Mara said he resorted to blocking Marston on Twitter “months ago.”
“She just kept repeating it over and over and over again, and sending me harassing emails,” he said.
While O’Mara says he’s never disparaged Marston publicly, screenshots of Marston doing the same to him, and to other Twitter users, began circulating on Twitter after the response to Rep. Tlaib that initially got her in hot water.
Some of those tweets didn’t sit well with the California Labor Federation, which had previously endorsed her, and the group announced Feb. 10 it had voted to revoke that endorsement.
Steve Smith, communications director for the California Labor Federation, said the tweets were “deeply troubling to us,” calling them “racially charged if not racist.”
In one of the specific tweets Smith referenced, Marston says the AFL-CIO labor union, which endorsed her, doesn’t “endorse losers with beards and dreadlocks” — a dig at O’Mara.
In a separate tweet, responding to another Twitter user, she says: “The trolls are using Spanish now. How interesting. English too hard, huh?”
Smith said it was “troubling to us that she would associate the AFL-CIO and the California Labor Federation with that kind of discriminatory language.”
He said a recommendation was made at the local level to revoke the Labor Federation’s endorsement of Marston, and the organization’s executive board made the final decision.
Marston defended her comments, saying she has never been prejudiced.
“I’ve never been a racist in my life,” she said.
Marston said: “People have decided that what they think is more important than what anyone else thinks. People have decided that they get to bully and tell people what to think and see and lie about them.”
She also said she did not refer to her opponent in any way that is untrue.
“I know he has dreadlocks,” she said. “They could say I’m an overweight white woman. Honestly, anyone can say anything they want. It’s factual information. It’s not untrue. He has braids or dreadlocks.”
Marston said despite the backlash to her tweets, she’s “absolutely” still in the running.
While her Facebook page was still down on Feb. 13, her Twitter profile was back on public.
Will Fritz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.