Carl DeMaio is openly gay, supports abortion rights, and says that climate change is a problem that demands bold solutions from the government. He also happens to be the Republican candidate for Congress in California’s 52nd District.
Despite standing in opposition to many of the GOP’s core principles, DeMaio insists that he’s a conservative to his core.
“I actually represent the new generation that is coming up,” DeMaio told “Top Line” in an interview, stressing that his positions are anchored in the Republican Party’s historical foundation.
“I actually believe that I reflect the traditional roots of the Republican Party,” DeMaio said. “If you go back decades, you'll find Teddy Roosevelt was one of the first conservationists in this country, and you see a party that traditionally supports economic freedom.”
But DeMaio sees serious flaws in the Republican Party as it stands today, locked in a feud between the establishment and tea party wings.
“I actually think both sides are wrong for the future of our party,” he said. “Establishment Republicans go along to get along. They're actually okay giving big subsidies and tax loopholes to big business, and they don't see a need to change the system as it is. … There are also tea party Republicans who take a my-way-or-the-highway approach, and they light their hair on fire to prove how pure they are; but they don't get anything done.”
DeMaio advocates what he calls “a third approach” that would “lay out ... bold visionary solutions but be willing to work with the other side on an incremental implementation of those changes.”
DeMaio said he’s running on behalf of “millions of Americans” who are fed up with both Republicans and Democrats.
“Neither political party has adequately responded to the challenges that our country faces, and I am willing to take on my own party to make a difference,” he said.
Earlier this year, DeMaio made campaign history when he featured his same-sex partner in a campaign ad – making him the first candidate of either political party ever to do so. But DeMaio, who said he had no idea he had made history with the ad until the media started calling, downplayed its significance.
“I had thought that the progressive, tolerant, inclusive Democratic Party had certainly gotten a couple of Democrats over the years to do this,” he said. “But my reaction was, ‘Why is this a big deal?’ How many straight candidates go out on the campaign trail and they feature their spouse, their children, their grandchildren, some of them [with] their pets?”
While DeMaio has the backing of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), not all members of the GOP have embraced this openly gay Republican. Some within the party, including Rep. Randy Forbes of Virginia, have been critical of NRCC’s decision to endorse DeMaio, as well as another gay Republican candidate in Massachusetts.
“There, unfortunately, have been some few voices who have said that I am somehow disqualified from any leadership role because of whom I love, and I think that my constituents spoke loudly and clearly on June 3 in the primary that they completely disagree with that kind of thinking,” DeMaio said. “Republican grassroots voters agreed with my message that the party ought to refocus away from divisive social issues and get refocused on fiscal and economic reform.”
Despite the obstacles that would come from being elected to a gridlocked Congress, DeMaio expressed optimism and said he wants to help “clean up the mess.”
“I'm actually looking forward to a process where we can get some bills on the president's desk, and then the president is going to have a choice like Bill Clinton had in the 1990s,” he said. “’Do I sign legislation in a bipartisan fashion or do I become an obstructionist?’”
For more of the interview with DeMaio, including his thoughts on the tea party in Congress, watch this episode of “Top Line.”
ABC News’ Tom Thornton, Chris Carlson and John Glennon contributed to this report.