If you live along parts of the Central Coast, you’ve likely heard about the battle for California’s 24th Congressional seat. Here’s what you need to know before Election Day.
The 24th district is as diverse as the two candidates vying to represent it. It spans San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties, as well as a sliver of Ventura. The varied terrain is known for oil platforms, agricultural fields, luxury coastal estates, and a wine industry made famous by the movie Sideways.
Since 1998, the district has been represented by Democrat Lois Capps. She was elected to replace her husband, Walter Capps, who died of a heart attack only nine months into his first term.
Capps has thrown her support behind fellow Democrat, Salud Carbajal, who frequently references his blue collar Mexican background.
“I’m the son of a farm worker,” Carbajal told the audience at KCRW’s primary debate in May. “I immigrated to this county when the immigration system worked. We need comprehensive immigration reform in a way that provides a path to citizenship and certainly secures our borders.”
Carbajal was elected to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors in 2004, and is considered by many as a safe, steady, but not terribly exciting Democratic pick — all of which is in stark contrast to the profile of his opponent, Justin Fareed.
Fareed, a 28-year-old Republican, grew up in the wealthy enclave of Montecito, just outside of Santa Barbara. He attended UCLA, and has never held public office. Critics have attacked his lack of experience, which Fareed has tried to brush off by touting his success as a local businessman.
“You have to look at the totality of one’s background and experiences,” he said at the same primary debate. “I grew up here in Santa Barbara, building a business from scratch with my family; packing boxes, taking inventory; going to different chambers and trade shows.”
When it comes to policy, Carbajal has stressed greater regulations on the local oil industry, following the Refugio Oil Spill in 2015. Fareed, on the other hand, is concerned primarily with supporting businesses and job creation.
These stances play equally well in the deeply divided district. Congresswoman Capps won reelection in 2014 by just three percentage points. And with the seat now up for grabs, Super PACS and other nonprofits have poured nearly $3 million into the race, making it one of the most expensive in the country. On top of that, Carbajal has personally raised around $2.8 million, while Fareed has raised roughly $2 million.
“I think, in the beginning, the Republicans had a sense that they might be able to turn this as an open seat from blue to red, because the registration was pretty close,” said Jerry Roberts, a longtime political observer on the Central Coast and former editor of the Santa Barbara News Press. “Since then, the Democrats have expanded their registration edge.”
Both candidates have experienced turbulence in their campaigns in recent weeks.
Carbajal was overhead by a political opponent calling the town of Lompoc the “armpit” of Santa Barbara County. This sent the Fareed campaign on the offensive with TV attack ads.
At the same time, Fareed has been dealing with a problem plaguing many other Republicans: Donald Trump. After initially making supportive statements about Trump, Fareed has tried to distance himself.
Trump’s comments, regardless of when they were said, are disgusting & inexcusable. Women should be treated w/ the highest regard & respect.
— Fareed for Congress (@JustinFareed) October 8, 2016
All of this has made the race especially bitter in the closing weeks of the campaign, as voters decide who will represent their district; the Democratic political insider who worked his way up through the party, or the Republican outsider pushing a message of economic growth.
Find all our election coverage at kcrw.com/elections.