November 21, 2023
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Dubroff: Race for Lois Capps’ House seat mirrors national politics


Henry Dubroff

Henry Dubroff

Once a gerrymandered district known as the “ribbon of shame” for wrapping up Democratic strongholds, the safe House seat held for two decades by Democrat Lois Capps is looking more and more like national politics in microcosm.

Capps’ decision not to run in California’s 24th Congressional District created a wide open field that was narrowed to two in the June 7 primary. The top vote getter, Democrat Salud Carbajal, is an insider who would make history as the first Latino to represent the district. He’s got the support of Capps and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and handily dispatched Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, who tried to run to his left.

His apparent opponent is Justin Fareed, an outsider with a lot of energy, plenty of outside money and a gift for negative campaigning. Capitalizing on a GOP revolt nationwide, he held a very narrow lead over Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian at press time.

But, just as with establishment candidate Hillary Clinton versus the unpredictable Donald Trump, the question remains whether a divided GOP can rally behind a maverick candidate who’s never held office. It is possible, though a long shot, that Fareed will drive expanded turnout and get moderates and independents to back him.

More likely, Carbajal’s message will resonate better with swing voters, especially if Clinton runs a strong campaign in California. Schneider voters, particularly in a sliver of Ventura County that’s part of the district, will not bolt to the GOP.

This will be one of the most expensive congressional races in the nation. It’s possible that a Katcho primary victory would have produced a closer race in November. But for now, this is Carbajal’s race to lose after a big night.

Across the region, other races held few surprises:

• Party favorites Carla Castilla and Kelly Long will battle for Ventura County’s 3rd Supervisorial District, traditionally a swing district. Castilla was the Democratic Party candidate to replace Kathy Long. Kelly Long, a Camarillo school board member and no relation to Kathy, was the GOP favorite.
Elsewhere in Ventura County, incumbents Julia Brownley, Jacqui Irwin, Steve Bennett and John Zaragoza gained solid majorities in the primary.

• In Santa Barbara County, Assemblyman Das Williams easily won Carbajal’s open 1st Supervisorial District seat — ending a sometimes heated debate over his endorsement by the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce. In hindsight, it makes the chamber look smart to be on the winning side.
Bruce Porter and Joan Hartmann will face off in a pivotal race for the 3rd Supervisorial District.

• In San Luis Obispo County, solar energy consultant Dawn Ortiz-Legg was the leading vote getter in the race for Achadjian’s assembly seat. That’s a potential pickup for the Democrats in an open seat that was contested on the GOP side. Now it’s up to Jordan Cunningham to run an effective race.

Meanwhile, Democrats Adam Hill and San Luis Obispo City Council member Dan Carpenter will face off in a supervisor race that’s about personality as well as policy.

California’s election reforms had a big impact and not just in the U.S. Senate race, which will be between two Democrats and no Republican for the first time in more than a century.

Redistricting played a huge role in the 24th Congressional District race and the open primary system definitely drew new candidates with surprising results.

Now it’s time to fasten your seat belts. It’s is going to be a bumpy ride all the way to November.

 • Reach Editor Dubroff at