Swimming against the tide
Republican Bob Pohl has been making notable headway in his uphill battle against fellow Santa Barbaran Pedro Nava in the Democratic-tilting 35th Assembly District along the Ventura and Santa Barbara County coasts. His fund-raising has nearly kept pace with Nava's and he's landed some significant crossover endorsements from Democrats in the district. The endorsements include those of former Santa Barbara City Councilman Greg Hart (who was once an aide to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell when O'Connell represented the area in the Legislature), former Oxnard High School Principal Daisy Tatum and Oxnard City Council candidate Saul Medina, who was forced to resign as president of the Oxnard Democratic club because of his betrayal of the Democratic candidate.
Some of the endorsements are not just an embrace of Pohl, but also a clear repudiation of Nava. Hart is doing commercials for Pohl, and when I asked him last week he said the decision to endorse Pohl was a no-brainer. The two served together for a time on the California Coastal Commission, and Hart said Nava displayed as a commissioner that "he's the kind of guy who sees the world in black and white... He's exactly the kind of person we don't need in the Legislature." Nava supporters assert that Hart's actions are a clear case of sour grapes -- Hart was a developer-friendly commissioner, they say, who didn't like being on the short end of coastal-protection votes. In addition, Hart had his eyes on the Assembly seat early on, but Nava outworked him to pretty much wrap up the party nomination even before the candidate-filing period opened.
Will these endorsements have any effect on the outcome? It seems unlikely, given the Democrats' 12-point registration edge and the fact that decline-to-states in the area typically break Democratic.
I asked Pohl last month if he could possibly win if the district went for John Kerry by 12 percentage points. In asking the question, I picked a number of the hat. Pohl gave a forthright response: "I've seen the polling, and John Kerry is going to win this district by a whole lot more than 12 points."
I'm told the most recent polling puts Kerry's lead in the district at close to 20 points. That's a very difficult tide to swim into, Pohl acknowledged. "If voters see this as a federal election and vote down the ticket, I will lose," he said. Pohl's most prominent supporter, former Assemblyman Brooks Firestone suggested in a conversation last week that Pohl could win if President Bush pulls clearly ahead in the national polling and California Democrats become dispirited about the presidential race. That hopeful observation came before the first presidential debate.
For all that, Democrats were concerned enough this week to send Nava $75,000 from the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee. They must believe this one isn't in the bag just yet.