Abel Maldonado
Paul Wellman (file)

There was significant buzz out of Sacramento at the state Republican Convention this weekend about former lieutenant governor Abel Maldonado potentially running for governor.

As the party focused on turning over a new leaf and putting forth an effort to become relevant in California again, questions were raised about 2014 and who could take on Governor Jerry Brown — widely expected to run for reelection and win. But while beating Brown won’t be easy, the GOP (which has 29 percent voter registration in California) is still looking to put forth a solid candidate and make inroads with Latino voters. Currently, only Assemblymember Tim Donnelly has put himself out there as a potential candidate. But his extreme views on immigration don’t make him a very good option for a party trying to shore up its relationship with Latinos.

Enter Maldonado. While his chances at unseating Governor Brown are at best a long shot, many see his potential candidacy as a chance to help right the Republican ship. The son of an immigrant farmworker, Maldonado — viewed as a more moderate voice in California politics — worked his way up from Santa Maria city councilmember, to mayor, to state legislator, to California’s lieutenant governor in 2009.

But he also has some issues. For one, he’s lost his last two political campaigns, and badly. In running for lieutenant governor in 2010, he lost to Gavin Newsom by 11 percentage points, and last year he lost to Representative Lois Capps by almost 11 points. Some of the same issues that made it difficult for him in running for the 24th Congressional District remain — party activists still give him a hard time for a 2009 vote that led to the highest tax increase in state history, and he still has an unresolved issue with the IRS.

Maldonado (who didn’t respond to either a phone call or an email from The Santa Barbara Independent for this story) told both The Sacramento Bee and San Francisco Chronicle he hadn’t made any decision about 2014 but was seriously considering a run for governor. “I love California and I’m not going to give up on California and we can’t give up on California,” Maldonado was quoted as saying. “There’s no secret that California and this party, the GOP, is on the wrong path. So we need to get people to change. So, you know, we’ll leave it at that.”

Should he decide to make the leap to run for statewide office, it would significantly alter the landscape of the 2014 race for the 24th Congressional District, leaving the Republicans with few options for candidates who could give Capps a run for her money.

Capps indicated for the first time this week that she plans to run for reelection. “It’s an honor to represent the Central Coast for another term in Congress,” she said in a statement Monday. “When the time comes I fully expect to run for reelection, but right now I am singularly focused on representing my constituents’ interests and trying to make Washington work better. Our country faces a number of challenges, from creating jobs to reducing the deficit to fixing our broken immigration system, and we will only be able to address these challenges by putting aside politics and working together.”

Tuesday, Capps was named one of 26 members of Congress on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Frontline” program, which is aimed at protecting vulnerable House seats.

Another Democrat, Paul Coyne from Santa Maria, has made clear his intention to run against Capps, though he will be hard-pressed to form the broad support — financially or otherwise — to take on the Capps machine. Thus far, Coyne is the only person who has has filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Elections Commission.

Maldonado — despite his 2012 loss and an uphill battle to win in 2014 — could be the GOP’s best bet at upending Capps during the midterm election. Midterm elections traditionally have significantly lower voter turnout, favoring Republicans, and Capps won’t have the up-ticket support of President Obama to help get out the vote. Still, even if she loses 4 or 5 percentage points from the presidential bump, she still has a significant cushion and will be tough to beat.

Another name tossed around from time to time for the 24th District is that of former state legislator Sam Blakeslee. Not only would he have name recognition in a good part of the district (he represented an area that included Santa Maria and much of San Luis Obispo County), he has the ability to fundraise. But Blakeslee is currently out of politics and working at the California Reform Institute, a think tank he formed last year that takes a nonpartisan approach to solving vexing political issues at the state level. Some of the issues listed on the group’s website include immigration, taxes, education, and budget reform.

Blakeslee, who earned a PhD from UCSB, is a former Assembly minority leader and also served time in the Senate. He would likely be much more popular with staunch conservatives in the primary than Maldonado, but it’s not clear how well known he is in Washington, D.C. He didn’t respond to a message left through the California Reform Institute.

The 24th District encompasses all of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties and a small bit of Ventura County.


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