Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

What made this million-dollar candidate drop out of Congressional race?

James A. Graf withdrew from a crowded field of candidates for Congress after lending his campaign $1 million.
James A. Graf withdrew from a crowded field of candidates for Congress after lending his campaign $1 million.
Friends of James Graf

Candidates often jumpstart their campaigns with a personal loan, but James A. Graf supersized it. Seeking to replace retiring Westside Congressman Henry Waxman, Graf loaned his campaign a million dollars, analyzed his chances — and dropped out of the race.

Graf, 49, was one of 18 candidates running in the June 3 primary race to succeed Waxman in the 33rd Congressional District, which runs from Malibu to Palos Verdes and includes Santa Monica and Beverly Hills.

"From my startup company background, rule number one in picking a first time CEO is that CEO needs to be all-in," Graf said in explaining why he put so much of his own money into his nascent campaign.

Graf is a businessman who raised $300 million last year with former MGM Chairman Harry Sloan (Graf's brother-in-law) and Hollywood businessman Jeff Sagansky to buy entertainment companies.

Graf's initial plan was to prime the campaign with his own money, build name recognition and then raise enough money from contributors to fund a robust run. He made the loan to his campaign in early March.

But polling he commissioned showed good support for Democratic candidates Sen. Ted Lieu and former Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel and unexpectedly strong support for a couple other candidates in the race, Graf said.

Ultimately, he and his advisors couldn't see "a path to the top two" so he decided to withdraw about a week ago.  In California, the top-two vote getters move on to the November general election.

Graf will get to keep most of the million dollars he loaned the campaign. He spent about $121,000 on polling, consultants, office space, phones and a website.

"I was really in it to win it," Graf said. "I didn't want to ask my friends or others for money for this unless I was confident that I had a path to win."

Here's the list of candidates who have qualified for the ballot in this district and in other California races.