Young gun takes up the GOP cause

Tom Merwin, 25, left, is running the Assembly campaign of Jack Mobley.
Tom Merwin, 25, left, is running the Assembly campaign of Jack Mobley. SUN-STAR PHOTO BY JONAH OWEN LAMB

Jack Mobley, the Republican running for Assembly District 17, may be a self-described "political neophyte," but he's not alone.

Beside him is his 25-year-old campaign manager, Tom Merwin. Mobley calls his shadow a "a political animal." That may be true, but this is also a first for Merwin. He's never run a campaign before.

"It's long hours of work riding on one day, which is Election Day," he said. "It's all on your shoulders."

This may be a first for Merwin -- who had been serving as a legislative liaison with the Republican Assembly caucus in Sacramento -- but this young up-and-coming Republican operative has been around. From campaign spoof adds to political research and precinct walks, Merwin is anything but a newbie.

So while Mobley shakes hands and makes speeches, close by, but behind the scenes, you'll find Merwin.

He first entered politics in high school when he volunteered for the Bush-Cheney election bid in 2000.

Once in college, majoring in international relations and political science, Merwin joined the UC Davis College Republicans.

In 2004, he volunteered for the party in Southern California knocking on doors and handing out flyers.

"I've been yelled at," said Merwin of the not-so-easy parts of campaigning.

In 2006, a party recruiter came around campus and Merwin was hired. After graduation, he began his new gig. At the California State Republican Party Merwin researched the Democratic candidate for governor, Phil Angelides.

He combed through tax files, voting records and business deals to find anything he could on Angelides. But serious research was not the limit of his work.

At a campaign rally in Bakersfield, a news team captured a man dressed up as a superhero meant as a spoof of Angelides and his tax policy. His name was ... Taxman.

But that was not the end of the joke. Staff in Merwin's department in the party made a short film they posted on YouTube. In the film, Taxman is running around on camera with the Beatle's tune "Taxman" as his soundtrack. After a bit of reluctance, Merwin admitted that he was the man behind the mask.

"I was the Taxman. It was a fun deal that we did at the party," said Merwin.

After Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was re-elected, Merwin got a job with Mercury Public Affairs, a lobbying, public relations and research firm. Its Web site points out that Mercury has "won billions of new Medicare dollars for health care providers" and "passed major tort reform, defeated anti-business regulations and won multibillion-dollar referendums."

For the past 14 months, Merwin has been back in party politics working for the Republican Assembly members services. Doug Hoaaland, the members' service director, described the job as a kind of training ground. "It's the entry level positions for legislative staff," said Hoaaland.

Merwin is on a leave of absence during his current position with Mobley.

Merwin volunteered to aid the local campaign. He knows the Valley, he said, and saw this district as one the Republicans had a chance in.

"I truly believe this is a vulnerable district," said Merwin. In 2006, the area went to the governor in large proportions, he pointed out.

Merwin thinks that Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani has gone back on promises she made to not raise taxes and that she's on the wrong side of the social issues that more conservative Valley residents believe in.

Galgiani's district director in Merced, Robin Adam, had issue with that characterization. He said Galgiani promised not to raise taxes and fulfilled that promise. "I don't know what they mean by that," said Adam. "She's certainly in touch with the Valley."

Merwin and Mobley's strategy centers partly on going after Galgiani on social "culture war" issues, like Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage proposition.

"Proposition 8 and the values issues are very important to Jack," said Merwin.

As part of the party's state strategy Merced and District 17 may be on the back-burner, but still, the party is paying for Merwin to work for almost two months on this race. The Fresno Republican Party pitched in a $6,200 non-monetary contribution recently to pay for Merwin's consultancy fees. But come Nov. 5, Merwin will be back at his full-time job in the capital doing what political animals do:

Eating their young.

Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209)385-2484 or