The same day Salud Carbajal positioned campaign signs in the windows of his new State Street headquarters, he all but secured an endorsement from the state Democratic Party in the race for the open congressional seat. The pre-endorsement bolsters his already-sturdy, deep-pocketed campaign against Democratic chief rival Helene Schneider.
Last Saturday, 83 percent of the 24th District’s Democratic Party delegates voted for Carbajal while just 10 percent backed Schneider. Eight percent selected “no endorsement.” Bill Ostrander, who is known as the campaign finance reform candidate, received none. Delegates are appointed by state and federal elected officials or represent clubs in the county’s Democratic Party.
Carbajal far exceeded the 70 percent required to receive the pre-endorsement, a decision very difficult to reverse. (Had he won 50-70 percent, an endorsing caucus would have made a decision at the February party convention.) A state party spokesperson said nearly 100 percent of endorsed candidates advance to the general election. Given June’s open primary, that candidate could face another Democrat.
Hours before the vote, Schneider issued a press release, charging, “… the system is rigged, meant to protect the politically-connected, the powerful or their hand-picked successor.” “[R]egardless of what happens at today’s delegate vote,” she added, “I’m running a campaign from the ground up — not the top down.”
Echoing the national momentum of anti-establishment candidates, Schneider, 45, alleged she faced political intimidation, retribution, and behind-the-scenes maneuvering to block debate opportunities since she announced her candidacy last April. Voters are looking for someone to speak about the issues, Schneider said, “not someone who is going to take orders from the Washington insiders.” Her supporters allege delegates were pressured to back Carbajal, 51, whose victory was deemed inevitable. Fears proliferated of splitting the blue vote, they added.
It is true that scores of Santa Barbara electeds, including the retiring Congressmember Lois Capps, have rallied behind Carbajal. What’s more, Carbajal, who is known for his fundraising skills, has raised $1.4 million (with $970,309 cash on hand) compared to Schneider’s $479,183 (with $246,947 in her war chest) as of December 31. (It is worth noting candidates can only spend a portion of that money on the June 7 primary election.)
Deviating from her Dem politicos, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson unapologetically backed Schneider, the only woman in the race. She said, “… it is critical that we send a champion of women’s equality and a long-time advocate to Congress.” At a recent event for the Women’s Political Committee, which did not have enough votes to endorse either candidate, Jackson stressed the importance of supporting local female candidates.
By many accounts, the state party pre-endorsement is a significant loss for Schneider. As a practical matter, Carbajal can slap the state party logo on mailers and will receive access to campaign voter files, among other resources. It is unclear how many assets the state party will pump into this race. Walter Capps, who preceded his wife in Congress before he suddenly died in 1997, badly lost the state party endorsement but still won the election.
Likewise, Walter Capps did not receive the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) endorsement. A DCCC staffer said the committee prefers not to engage in the primaries, but it does on rare occasions. Carbajal’s official campaign financing report lists the DCCC among its contributors. Carbajal’s campaign clarified the committee itself is not a contributor but it acted as an intermediary for two political action committees, Turquoise PAC and Progressive Choices PAC, which each donated $1,000.
Last July, Schneider called for 10 debates and has since expressed disappointment one did not take place before the pre-endorsement meeting last Saturday. (A spokesperson for Carbajal maintained there was “no debate about debates,” and from day one the issue was about scheduling and having them moderated in a fair way.)
On the Republican side, second-time congressional hopeful Justin Fareed, 27, surprisingly outraised San Luis Obispo Assemblymember Katcho Achadjian in the last reporting cycle. To date, Fareed raised $869,398 (with $767,265 cash on hand) compared to Achadjian’s $386,915 (with $257,084 in his campaign piggy bank). But Achadjian, 64, has spent 50 percent more than Fareed, including $60,345 on mass mail.
On Tuesday, Achadjian’s campaign released a poll — conducted January 17 and 18 by Moore Information, Inc. — that shows him with a sizable lead above his opponents if the primary election were held today. His campaign claimed after responders “learned more about” Achadjian, 29 percent said they would vote for Achadjian; 12 percent picked Schneider; 11 percent chose Carbajal; 4 percent said Fareed; 3 percent picked Ostrander; 38 percent were undecided.
Before that, voters were asked their preferred candidate based only on name, occupation, and political party. Those results showed Achadjian with an eight percent lead over both Schneider and Carbajal, who both earned 12 percent. Campaign spokesperson Nyri Achadjian declined to comment on exactly what the interviewer said about Achadjian or the other candidates between the first and second question, citing campaign strategy.
The survey included a sample of 405 “likely primary voters” via cell phones and landlines in the district, according to his campaign. The margin of error was plus or minus five percentage points.
As a rule of thumb, internal polling results are viewed with considerable skepticism. A spokesperson for Fareed’s campaign declined to comment on the poll because she had not seen it. Emphasizing Fareed’s strong fundraising, she said the campaign continues to work hard to give them a choice between “do-nothing career politicians” and “someone with fresh ideas.”
Schneider is the only other candidate to release polling results. Last July, her campaign poll indicated 24 percent of respondents would vote for Achadjian, 23 percent for Schneider, 15 percent for Carbajal, 14 percent for Fareed, and 2 percent for Ostrander. The survey, conducted by Lake Research Partners, questioned 350 voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.2 percentage points.
At least four more candidates — Tyler Gross, Jeff Oshins, Steve Isakson, and Matt Kokkonen — recently jumped in the race, as well. All candidates (except Kokkonen, who lost to Achadjian in the 2010 Assembly race) are expected to debate on February 4 at the Spanos Theatre at Cal Poly at 6 p.m.