Tanaka campaign largely absent during run-up to sheriff election

GARDENA, Calif. (KABC) -- It's the time of year when campaigns for the November election start heating up. But the lack of activity from one candidate for L.A. County Sheriff has many wondering if he's still in the race. With roughly three months until the election, Paul Tanaka has all but disappeared from the campaign trail.

He's in a high-profile race, competing to head the biggest sheriff's department in the nation. Paul Tanaka raised more funds than any other candidate in the primary. So where's the momentum now?

"It looks like this campaign went into hibernation," said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor and political analyst.

Where's Tanaka? He vacated his Gardena headquarters, ignored an Eyewitness News request for an interview, and since early June, has been a no-show on social media -- until a single tweet went out on Tuesday:

"We are still in the race but giving our supporters an opportunity to spend the summer with our families."

"I think that anyone who really is running a full-force campaign would not wait until Labor Day to gear up," said Levinson.

Tanaka won 15 percent of the primary vote, enough to force a runoff with fellow candidate and current Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, who got 49 percent. Wednesday, McDonnell told Eyewitness News he's not taking a break.

"I get out there, I work as hard as I possibly can to meet as many people, to make as many contacts as I can throughout the county, and it's a big county," said McDonnell.

"The truth is I don't think that Paul Tanaka really is a viable candidate anymore," said Levinson.

It's the scandal: Six sheriff's deputies were convicted last month for obstruction of a federal investigation, for actions they undertook at Tanaka's direction while he was Undersheriff of the department. Tanaka himself is the target of an FBI probe. That's not a topic that excites voters in a good way.

"Paul Tanaka is not going to want to have a conversation that includes the words 'misconduct,' 'corruption,' 'sheriff's department' -- none of this is good going into the election for him," said Levinson.

Tanaka is sometimes visible at Gardena City Hall. He was elected to a third term last spring as mayor. The staff tells Eyewitness News he does not keep office hours, but has not missed a council meeting.

As for the sheriff's run, one former Tanaka campaign manager says he and others have left.

"Paul is working on putting together a new team for the General Election run. Given the results of the primary, I think a shake up is needed," said former Tanaka campaign manager Ed Chen

Also needed: funding. Tanaka's filings with the Los Angeles County Registrar's Office fill 10 pages, compared to 145 for McDonnell.

What we also learn from the registrar is that there's no procedure for bowing out of the race. Tanaka's name will be on the ballot, no matter what.

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