Ventura County has forever been something of a political backwater -- a place where long-established old-boy networks still exert powerful influence, where shaking hands and knocking on doors still matters more than paid campaign advertising, and when advertising does play a role, mail is the only medium that matters.
There are signs that the upcoming 19th Senate District battle royale between Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson and Republican Tony Strickland could change the county's political culture going forward.
Under the direction of chairman Mike Osborn, for instance, the Ventura County Republican Central Committee has moved beyond being a debating society and become a bare-knuckles operation with an intense focus on winning campaigns. The committee's success in landing a $50,000 contribution from Altria earlier this year may have generated controversy over the role of tobacco money in campaigns, but it also put real money in the bank and put Democrats on notice that local Republicans intend to be ultra-aggressive in raising money to promote their candidates.
On the Democratic side, two sharp, professional activists have given their party a boost with the creation of an organization called Vote Blue Central Coast that played a significant role in registering the new voters who this year gave Democrats a plurality of registered voters in the county for the first time in a generation. Of equal significance, Helen Conly and Sue Broidy have helped to establish among Democrats a cross-county sense of unity between Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. That's important because both of the county's congressional districts and the critical 19th Senate District encompass large chunks of both counties.
Now Conly and Brody have teamed to create an intelligent, clean -- and, assuredly, ideologically liberal -- blog called Political Watch Central Coast.
They tell me in an e-mail that their goal is "to build a regional approach to discussion, education and political issues with a progressive slant... We will speak liberally, factually, respectfully and forcefully about candidates and issues."
Combine that with Brian Dennert's folksy, newsy blog and Steve Frank's relentlessly conservative, red-meat blog here at VenturaCountyStar.com, and you've got a pretty diverse, lively mix of online forums for political activism.
It's yet another sign that Ventura County politics may be moving beyond its backwater stage.