The Wall Street Journal was on the line, and Michael Woody was dumbfounded.
“What are you calling me for?” Woody, a Republican running a long-shot campaign for Salud Carbajal’s seat, remembers thinking when a political reporter from the paper contacted him recently. “I’m just some Podunk candidate out in Morro Bay.”
The Journal was preparing a trend piece about TV campaign spots featuring candidates speaking to the camera while in the car (“That Driver Is Jamming Traffic — He’s Probably Filming a Campaign Ad”) and highlighted one of Woody’s homemade ads, now running on local stations, doing just that.
“We shot it for $200 with my Canon camera mounted on a suction cup. The script was taped to the windshield, and my mom and dad came in to hit the record button,” the 24th District contender said in a telephone interview. “That’s how you get money out of politics — screw the consultants.”
Articulate and very earnest, Michael Erin Woody is a 51-year-old contractor and long-ago Fresno city councilmember now self-funding a third-man effort to disrupt what otherwise shapes up as a tedious rerun of 2016, when Democrat Salud stomped perennial wannabe Justin Fareed by seven points.
Woody has loaned his own campaign about $135,000 and, with a few small family contributions, just reported to the Federal Election Commission $65,868.33 cash on hand. That compares to Carbajal’s $1.45 million-plus balance, and $318,059.24 for Fareed.
“We might have the least amount of money and the least name ID,” he said, “but you just keep doing the best you can every day with continued hard work.”
Ex-wunderkind. Woody has lived for 15 years in Morro Bay, where his mother has deep roots. His father worked for the Santa Fe Railway, so his family moved around lot, including to Fresno, where Woody graduated from CSU (go, Bulldogs!).
At 26, he shocked the local political world by winning a seat on city council, but stumbled four years later with a failed challenge to the incumbent mayor.
The Fresno Bee, reporting Woody’s entry into the congressional race, recently recalled him as the city’s “onetime political boy wonder.”
“After 17 years, Woody — who was known in Fresno as much for his youthful good looks, long blond hair and stylish wardrobe as for his political ambition — is getting back on the horse,” said the piece, adjoining an old photo of him sporting an ’80s-style blond mullet cut (“When was a member of Whitesnake on the Fresno City Council?” one commenter wondered on the paper’s Facebook page).
People’s politics. Woody says he was a volunteer “policy adviser” for Chris Mitchum and Katcho Achadjian in the GOP’s last two unsuccessful attempts to win in the 24th, but he expresses little regard for Fareed.
“I consider myself the real Republican in all this,” he said, tracing his political lineage to “individual rights, as represented by Abraham Lincoln” and the pro-conservation orientation of Teddy Roosevelt.
On issues, Woody offers an eclectic mix of Trumpism (he strongly supports the administration’s move against the “sanctuary state” law) and old-school, moderate Republicanism (pro-choice and anti-offshore drilling, he backs gay marriage as a matter of personal liberty), coupled with awkward efforts to split the difference on polarized matters like climate change (“I don’t believe in man-made climate change,” he said, emphasizing support for investment in technologies to capture carbon emissions at the source).
“The Republican Party has lost its way,” he said.
Bottom line. In a race the L.A. Times ranks the 11th most competitive in California, Woody said Salud is way too far left on everything from immigration to health care and thinks Justin needs some life experience.
His basic message centers on getting government out of the way of growing small businesses, like his, which has three employees.
“From Cambria all the way down to Ventura, we are a district of small-business owners,” he said. “We need a better set of priorities for people on the Central Coast.”