There's a very long way to go between here and there, but as the campaign season gets under way, Supervisor Linda Parks of Thousand Oaks has a very good chance of making history this year as independent running for Congress. Which is another way of saying that she could actually win.
That conclusion is based on a poll conducted by Parks' campaign team of Gorton Blair Biggs International, headed by former Pete Wilson strategist George Gorton, whose storied career in political consulting includes a tie-in with Watergate as a youth-vote adviser to President Richard Nixon's 1972 presidential campaign (he paid someone to spy on anti-war protesters) and a major role in helping to elect Boris Yeltsin as president of the Russian Federation (the film "Spinning Boris" was based on that, with Jeff Goldblum playing the role of Gorton).
Parks' team yesterday shared with me a polling memo in the 26th Congressional District. Although short on details of the actual poll, the memo makes three things clear: Parks is now running in a strong second place in the primary, none of the four Democratic candidates is particularly well known, and that the Thousand Oaks supervisor has a statistically significant lead in a hypothetical November matchup against Republican Tony Strickland.
Some details: The poll surveyed 361 likely primary voters from Feb. 26-28 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent. The results, according to the memo, show Parks in a "strong second place" in the primary. If she were to finish second, the polling results (weighted to reflect the expected partisan makeup of a general election turnout) show her leading Strickland 42.6 percent to 35.5 percent in a head-to-head race in November.
As for the Democrats, the memo says they have a tough road ahead:
"None of the Democrats show signs of gaining enough support at this late date to make it through the primary. All of the Democrats, Jess Herrera, Julia Brownley and David Cruz Thayne, are mired at under 5 percent of the vote.
"Brownley, whom some pundits view as the strongest of the Democratic candidates, enters the race as a virtual unknown. Nine in ten voters do not know who she is or do not know enough about her to form an opinion with only a little over 5 weeks to go before absentee voting begins."
It's possible that once the campaign begins Brownley -- or perhaps one of the others -- could consolidate Democrats and emerge as the clear Democratic candidate in the field. I asked Gorton if the poll tested how a generic Democratic candidate (that is, a clearly identifed favorite of Democrats) would fare, but he would not say. He did offer that Parks registers support across the board among Democrats, Republicans and independents, but would not provide specifics.
"Her message appeals to both parties. They're is no loyalty to parties as there used to be," Gorton told me yesterday.
Parks' principal message is that partisan wrangling has rendered Congress dysfunctional and that the country needs congressional representatives who are not aligned with either party and are willing to break through the gridlock. That message appeals to all sides, Gorton said, because "it has no conservative or liberal meaning to it."
"This election has the potential to turn California politics on its head," the memo says. ".A major candidate - Supervisor Linda Parks - has entered the race as an Independent and is in a strong second place according to our recent survey, qualifying her for the runoff.
"Specifically, if the primary election were held today, Linda Parks would earn one of the two top spots to advance to a general election vs. Tony Strickland."
The memo cautions that the poll is simply an early snapshot of the dynamics of the race.
"Conditions and attitudes can change," it says. "Campaigns count, message counts, fundraising counts and grass roots efforts count, so nothing is written in stone. Nevertheless, if the general election were held today, Linda Parks would win. Her lead over Strickland is outside the margin of error."
Sources tell me that the poll's findings are generally consistent with what other private polling in this race has revealed. What all this means is that between now and June 5 Parks can expect to be attacked from both sides, as a second-place finish in the primary could spell big problems for Democrats and Republicans alike.