California Attorney General Kamala Harris toured Refugio State Beach following the May 19 Plains All American Pipeline oil spill (June 4, 2015).

Let’s be blunt: Most political endorsements have about as much effect as publishing poetry.

Each campaign season, candidates hype an endless series of woodenly worded statements of support ​— ​“California Local 666 of the International Lamplighters Union Proudly Endorses Cemetery Board Chairman Horace Blatt for Re-election!” ​— ​which are designed to impress voters (and reporters), but which are, most often, decidedly unimpressive.

Jerry Roberts

For example, the Washington Post political writer Chris Cillizza has posited a 10-step “Endorsement Hierarchy” to argue that only rarely does a politician-to-politician endorsement have potential to affect campaign dynamics.

However, Rep. Lois Capps’s endorsement of Supervisor Salud Carbajal, in the race to replace her, fits in that category, for three key reasons:

A Signal to the Base. Capps, retiring after this term, is far from universally loved in the 24th Congress District, but she has built a substantial, loyal political base, both in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, during 17 years in the House. Her early endorsement of Salud, in a competitive contest among a batch of candidates who have only run in small portions of the 6,883-square-mile district, communicates to the base her belief that he best embodies the liberal Democratic values that they have supported during her incumbency.

A Signal to the Beltway. Both Carbajal and Mayor Helene Schneider, his chief party rival, have traveled to Washington recently to court members of California’s delegation, labor, and other political organizations, like the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, and EMILY’s List. None has thrown its support to either Democrat yet, with the primary still a year away, but the Capps endorsement broadcasts her preference to her colleagues, whose campaign committees can be a source of major financial contributions.

A Signal to Santa Barbara Donors. For many active Democrats, here and in S.L.O. (and in the tiny sliver of the district within Ventura County), the Schneider-Carbajal matchup presents a close call. With many still on the fence, particularly those who donate money to political campaigns, the Capps endorsement makes their choice easier.

Although few voters are paying attention to the 24th CD race these days, the campaign still is in a pivotal phase.

“Campaigns face two primaries,” Rose Kapolczynski, a veteran California political consultant who managed all of Senator Barbara Boxer’s winning efforts, said in an interview. “There is the early, credibility primary with insiders, and then the real one, when voters cast ballots. The turf for the insider primary is money, endorsements, and credibility.”

The next big test of the “credibility primary” comes next month, when the candidates file their first fundraising reports. Like it or not, campaign cash is perceived as prima facie evidence of political feasibility, and early finance reports represent another key milestone marker along the campaign trail.

THE POLITICS OF OIL: State environmental advocates, led by Santa Barbara’s Susan Jordan and Linda Krop, succeeded in an effort to influence Governor Jerry Brown to re-establish the authority of the Coastal Commission over mitigation and restoration of beaches and wildlife habitat degraded by the Refugio Oil Spill.

After Brown’s surprise move suspending the commission’s power in the Plains All American Pipeline accident, Jordan and Krop, on behalf of the California Coastal Protection Network and the Environmental Defense Center, rounded up leaders of more than two dozen environmental organizations around the state to sign a letter objecting to his move. Late Friday, Brown relented, in a new proclamation that re-established the commission’s strongest-in-the-nation environmental standards.

Meanwhile, cynical insiders saw last week’s Santa Barbara visit by Attorney General Kamala Harris as motivated more by politics than policy. Harris, the front-runner in the race to replace Boxer, had a freelance photographer awaiting her arrival, the only one of a dozen on the scene who was allowed untrammeled access to her as she toured the command center and the beach. Don’t be shocked if some of his images show up in Harris TV spots.

Media veterans otherwise were underwhelmed by the political stagecraft of the visit. Photographers rolled their eyes at the setup for her very brief press availability, with handlers placing her with both the sun and wind directly behind her, standing at a skinny and sad-looking little microphone stand dwarfed by a stout adjoining palm.

It’s not easy to mess up a shot of the Santa Barbara coastline, but whoever advanced Harris’s trip managed to pull off the trick.


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