California 24th Congressional District race

Capps, Maldonado in high-stakes congressional race

Candidates face significant challenges in a race that features big money, stark contrasts and high stakes for two parties

bcuddy@thetribunenews.comOctober 5, 2012 

The congressional race between Lois Capps and Abel Maldonado in the 24th District seems almost to have been crafted in Central Casting — a veteran, incumbent liberal Democrat versus a small-government Republican challenger who has held several local and state offices. 

Perhaps the signature issue that divides them and illuminates where they part company on policy is the Affordable Care Act — “Obamacare.” 

Capps, a former nurse, helped draft it and aggressively helps constituents access the services it already provides.

Maldonado says the act is a classic example of government overreach. He wants Congress to throw it in the trash and start all over again on health care, although he sometimes adds that he might keep some parts of the ACA.

On other policy issues, Capps and Maldonado generally break along party lines. 

While both candidates say improving the economy and adding jobs are their top priorities, for example, each blames the policies of the other party for creating what Capps calls “a very deep hole.”

Beyond the economy, each has a particular political challenge to overcome.

A different district

For Capps, it is the new boundary lines for the Central Coast district. For the past 10 years, the district has slithered along the coast through five counties in a way that gave Democrats a 2-1 advantage in voter registration.

The shape of the district drew derision for what many considered its blatantly gerrymandered boundaries. It became known to critics as “the ribbon of shame.”

This time around, the redrawn district takes in only Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, as well as a slice of Ventura County, and pushes inland to encompass conservative territory that has been represented by Bakersfield Republican Kevin McCarthy. 

Although registered Democrats still outnumber Republicans in the new district, the margin is only 3 percentage points, compared to double digits last time around. The registration numbers now show Democrats at 39 percent; Republicans at 36 percent; and decline-to-state voters at 20 percent. 

As a result, Capps will have to broaden her appeal.

(McCarthy’s departure from the county gives him a less-gerrymandered district as well. It had run hundreds of miles from the high desert near Ridgecrest and Edwards Air Force Base to within a mile of the Pacific Ocean in Arroyo Grande. The new lines move it closer to Bakersfield). 

Maldonado’s challenge

Maldonado’s special challenge comes from his party’s right wing, Tea Party Republicans. While the Tea Party does not formally endorse candidates, its individual members backed self-declared Tea Party candidate Chris Mitchum of Santa Barbara in the June 5 primary. Mitchum, the son of the late actor Robert Mitchum, has pointedly not endorsed Maldonado.

Maldonado also withdrew from an Atascadero Tea Party event in September, further angering the group’s members. 

Many conservatives already were upset at Maldonado for casting a vote in 2009 that allowed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget to pass against their wishes. In addition to their fiscal objections, some called him an opportunist who traded the vote so that Schwarzenegger would appoint him lieutenant governor, which Schwarzenegger did. 

This is also the first November election held under the state’s new “top two’’ primary system, under which only the top two finishers in the June primary face off in November. There will be no Libertarian, Green, American Independent or other party on the ballot.

So those who prefer neither Capps nor Maldonado have no place to go, not even a write-in. Under the new rules, write-ins are allowed only for presidential candidates and in nonpartisan elections, according to county Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald.

Maldonado engineered the measure that created the open primary.

Ad campaigns

Each candidate has targeted the other with negative advertisements, trading accusations of fomenting policies that will leave seniors worse off or destroy Medicare.

Some of Capps’s ads focus on Maldonado’s taxes, which have been a campaign issue for months.

The candidate is involved in a $470,000 dispute between his family farm in Santa Maria and the IRS, which is now being fought in U.S. Tax Court, according to The Sacramento Bee.

Separately, the Los Angeles Times reported this year that the Maldonado family farm is disputing an IRS claim that it underpaid taxes by more than $3.6 million between 2006 and 2008.

After that became public, Maldonado’s campaign pointed out that Capps had failed to report $41,480 paid between 2001 and 2005 by a staff member who rented a room at her house. Capps paid the taxes and a fine, and released her tax returns, which she has posted on her website.

She has challenged Maldonado to release his taxes. He has not done so.

Maldonado’s camp has accused Capps of hypocrisy for attacking his tax issues while having problems of her own. Capps said she hadn’t known about the problem and fixed it as soon as she found out.

Other issues

Bipartisanship: Maldonado said at a San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce debate that he would work with Democrats, although he did not give specifics. Capps said she always seeks a Republican co-sponsor for legislation she intends to introduce.

Women: Capps said women don’t earn as much as men for the same work and accused the government of “wasting time” by engaging in “old debates” and going after Planned Parenthood, birth control and other women’s rights. Maldonado said the campaign “is not about women, this is not about men; we’re all in this together.” He said fixing the economy would create more jobs for all. 

Energy: Both support new forms of energy, such as wind and solar power, and oppose offshore oil drilling. Maldonado, however, said he is interested in new extraction technologies, such as fracking. Fracking liberates natural gas from subterranean shale formations. It involves pumping water and chemicals into the ground, fracturing the rock below and inducing tiny earthquakes, unfelt but detectable directly above.

Extending tax cuts: Capps favors extending tax cuts for middle-class families, but not for those earning more than $250,000. Maldonado wants to extend them for everyone, for perhaps as long as four years.

Campaign finances: Capps has an edge

Rep. Lois Capps’ campaign has raised $2,160,176 this year and spent $1,197,853. Political action committees contributed $726,334 to Capps this year. Here is a breakdown by sector: business groups: $408,760; labor: $180,000; ideological: $237,087; other: $1,000.

Maldonado has raised $1,017,720 and spent $514,760. PACs gave Maldonado $154,240. Here is the breakdown: business: $88,000; ideological: $93,250.

Outside groups that spend money on the election, but do not give directly to candidates, have spent $521,703 so far this year on the race. Of that, $288,310 was spent over the past couple of weeks, mostly in opposition to Capps. Of that sum, $520,475 was spent opposing Capps and $1,228 in support from labor, environmental and pro-choice groups. Of the groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent $120,000 opposing Capps, all of it over the two weeks.

So far this year, outside groups have spent $14,027 in opposition or support of Maldonado. Of that sum, $3,000 has supported him and $11,027 opposed. More than $11,000 has been spent this year by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to oppose Maldonado.

The largest expenditure from a single outside group came from the National Republican Campaign Committee, which has spent $403,475 this year both supporting Maldonado and opposing Capps. More than $100,000 of that was spent over the past couple of weeks.

The Federal Election Commission data are as of Friday and come from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan, independent nonprofit group.

– Jonah Owen Lamb

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