SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – Dan O’Dowd, a Democrat running for one of California’s seats in the United States Senate primary June 7, is spending millions of his own money for commercials against Tesla’s self-driving system.

But the 66-year-old candidate from Santa Barbara isn’t against Tesla per se.

“I love Tesla. I own three of them,” O’Dowd told KRON4. “I’m perfectly happy with Teslas as cars.”

The problem, O’Dowd explains, is that as society becomes more automated and connected through the internet, there are not enough laws in place to ensure software is both safe to use and secure from hackers. O’Dowd considers the self-driving Tesla — which the company has been touting is just around the corner for years and which is purchasable for $12,000 but is not fully online yet — to be the prime example of the dangers of automation.

Dan O’Dowd is a Democrat running for U.S. Senate in the June 7 primary. (Photo courtesy of the O’Dowd campaign)

O’Dowd says the feature “does nothing but make your car worse.” His ads show video of Tesla AutoPilot making mistakes.

“What is the point of something like that?” he asked.

Tesla did not respond to an immediate request for comment midday Tuesday.

When asked if he was actively trying to win the Senate seat against incumbent Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla, O’Dowd said “I am trying to get votes, but I am doing it on a single issue.”

“I contend this is our most important issue,” O’Dowd said.

When asked about reports in Politico that O’Dowd’s candidacy is about securing favorable ad rates from TV stations for his commercials drawing attention to the self-driving car system, O’Dowd insisted that “what I say is very simple — vote for me if you feel this is the most important issue.”

O’Dowd said that a massive cyberattack would be equivalent in its negative effects on society to a nuclear war, and everyday issues like immigration and taxation won’t matter very much unless measures are taken to prevent it.

“If we don’t fix it, somebody’s going to pull the plug,” O’Dowd said. “We’re going to be in 1820. … It’s a totally unbelievable catastrophe and we’re sitting ducks.”

O’Dowd said that there is one technological area that the federal government effectively regulates — aviation.

“I can’t remember the last time an airliner crashed in the U.S.,” he said, adding later that software needs to be as safe as airplanes and as secure as the military.

O’Dowd is president and co-founder of the tech company Green Hills Software in Santa Barbara. He previously ran in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in 1994, winning 12.3% of the vote. Dianne Feinstein, California’s current senior senator and the former mayor of San Francisco, beat him with 74.2% of the vote. She went on to win election to her first full term in the Senate that fall.

Padilla was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 2021 after serving as California’s secretary of state, upon the ascension of Kamala Harris to the vice presidency. He is running for his first full term in the chamber. His campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment midday Tuesday.