Michelle Lyons. Courtesy photo.

She earned a degree in Latin American studies at UC Berkeley. She spent time living in Brazil, Italy and Barbados, then worked in Washington, DC, before a career in the modeling industry that included opening her own Century City business.

Michelle Lyons, 40, the daughter of a criminal defense attorney and former Los Angeles Laker cheerleader, has now launched her first bid for elected office—and she’s doing it as a Republican in a Congressional district that has been deep blue since it was created a decade ago.

The 47th district, which includes much of Long Beach and western parts of Orange County, is also represented by a well-funded and popular representative who comes from one of the best-known political families in Long Beach.

But Lyons, a Long Beach resident for six years and mother of two, is convinced that many voters are less liberal than they think—and she sees an opening in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly vaccine mandates in schools.

“We were led to believe that (former president Donald) Trump was the problem,” she said in a recent interview. “But there’s nothing more threatening to us than losing our freedom.”

Lyons said she was a registered Independent for 20 years before switching to the Republican party in January, and hopes to bridge the divide between “never-Trumpers”—which she said she was—to those devoted to the polarizing ex-president.

Asked whether she supports Trump now, Lyons said: “I like him more and more.”

The reason, she said, is what’s behind Trump’s brash demeanor: She agrees with lowering taxes, reducing the size of government and “staying out of other countries’ lives.”

“A lot of good with Trump got overshadowed,” she said. “As Americans, we’ve got to be smart.”

Her campaign, she said, will focus in part on homelessness—an issue she says Democratic leaders have failed to address. “If I can’t park my car on the street without getting a ticket, then someone shouldn’t be able to park their body on the sidewalks,” she said.

Though she describes herself as pro-vaccine and said she has been vaccinated against COVID-19, Lyons also wants to ensure families have freedom of choice.

Lyons, who is also an ordained minister, sees vaccine mandates as a direct attack on religion. (California does allow exemptions for religious beliefs related to the COVID-19 vaccine, but not for other required school vaccines.)

Tough odds 

Issues surrounding education—vaccine mandates, school closures during the pandemic, as well as transgender rights issues and arguments over “critical race theory”—have been successfully used by Republicans elsewhere to galvanize members of their own party and pull in more centrist voters.

Last week a relatively unknown truck driver for a furniture store, a Republican, unseated the No. 2 Democrat in New Jersey; a political newcomer in Virginia defeated his Democratic challenger for Virginia governor–who had previously served as Virginia’s governor–by a comfortable margin.

Whether the same happens in Long Beach in 2022 remains to be seen, but the odds are against Lyons and other challengers.

Rep. Alan Lowenthal, 80, a former Long Beach City Council member, assemblyman and state senator, has represented the 47th since 2013.

In 2012, with the congressional seat newly-redrawn after Census redistricting, the race for the seat seemed competitive despite its lopsided Democratic composition: Republican Gary DeLong, also a former councilman, out-raised Lowenthal with a $1.5 million war chest. He lost the race decisively with 44% of the vote to Lowenthal’s 56%.

The following election, Republican Andy Whallon raised just $56,000 in his bid to unseat Lowenthal, and lost by the exact same margin as DeLong.

Lowenthal has since sailed to victory in 2016 (again against Whallon), in 2018 and 2020 (both times against Republican John Briscoe).

The first hurdle for Lyons and other contenders will be to land in the top-two after the primary June 7, ahead of the general election run-off a year from now in November. And Briscoe is again running in 2022, along with Democrat William Griffith.

Lyons is so far behind in the fundraising race: Filings with the Federal Elections Commission show Briscoe, a businessman, has loaned his campaign $250,000; Lowenthal has about $448,000 to spend; and Lyons has just under $10,000. (Griffith has raised nothing.)

Another factor that will be in play: The state redistricting commission is in the process of redrawing lines for the 2022 election, with initial maps for every congressional district expected to be released this week.

Lyons said her approach in 2022 will be appealing to voters in the middle, whom she said want problems addressed. “And most of those people are looking at the Republican side,” she believes.

Melissa Evans is the executive editor of the Long Beach Post. Reach her at [email protected], @melissaevansLBP or 562-437-5814.