On the surface, it may seem odd that, two years into his first term after barely surviving an expensive and brutal campaign for state Senate, Ventura County lawmaker Tony Strickland is already taking aim at a higher office. But for a lot of reasons, his decision to run for controller makes sense.
For one, Strickland is clearly the ambitious sort. Only 40, he's already toyed with running for U.S. Senate, governor and Congress, and he has one campaign for state office already under his belt. Now, for the first time in his career, he has a free ride -- an opportunity to run for higher office and still retain his Senate seat if he loses. In addition, it appears that 2010 will be a much better year for Republicans than was 2006, when he ran and lost for the same office. The underlying dynamics of a rematch will be more favorable for Strickland, especially since this also appears to be a year in which Democrat John Chiang's incumbency will not be as strong an advantage as it typically is. On top of that, since Strickland was out of office in 2006, he had to use the rather ambiguous ballot designation of "taxpayer organization president"; this time around he can use "state senator."
Secondly, although Republicans have been running for all the other statewide offices for months, none had stepped forward to run for controller. It's possible that Strickland was influencing that vacuum from behind the scenes, but still, by coming in at the last minute the impression is that he's doing his party a favor by stepping forward.
And then there's the fact that Strickland is poised to take advantage of a lot of political work he's done on behalf of others. It's no accident that he will be formally making his announcement this weekend at the state Republican Party convention at a time when former Massachusetts governor and presidential wannabe Mitt Romney will be on hand. Strickland worked hard for Romney in 2008; it will be in Romney's interest to reciprocate, given that he'd like to maintain his GOP friends in California so they will be there for him again for the 2012 GOP presidential primary. In addition, Strickland has been an early and prominent supporter of Meg Whitman, and if she wins the primary it certainly won't hurt his chances to have a billionaire gubernatorial candidate in his corner in the fall.
Finally, there is this: Strickland is facing a great uncertainty with his Senate seat. How it will be redrawn in 2012 is anybody's guess, but there's a pretty good chance he would be faced with either running for re-election in a district that's a lot less favorable to Republicans, being placed in a district in which he'd have to run against another incumbent lawmaker, or both. If he could win a campaign for controller in 2010, he wouldn't have to worry about what redistricting will bring.
And one more thing: Given the state's bleak financial situation, there's a fair chance the governor elected in 2010 will be a one-term governor. An incumbent statewide officeholder would be a strong position to compete for his party's nomination for the top job in 2014.
His Ventura County constituents might rightfully ask when Strickland is actually going to spend time representing them in the Senate, but the fact is that he is a perpetual campaigner. His track record has made that clear, so voters should have known that when they elected him.