Democratic incumbent Lois Capps handsomely beat Republican challenger Abel Maldonado for the 24th District congressional seat, even though he and his allies outspent her by more than $1.2 million.
While a lot of money was spent on the campaign — more than $7 million — cash was not the determining factor in the race, according to observers on both sides of the political spectrum. Rather, they said, it was a fundamental campaign strategy — volunteers going door to door to encourage Democrats to go to the polls — that made the difference.
The amount spent for Maldonado and against Capps equaled $4.2 million. Conversely, $3 million was spent supporting Capps and opposing Maldonado.
Capps and her campaign said their success stemmed from a voter registration advantage, her incumbency and their strategy to pursue voters personally.
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Local Republicans said it was the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote effort, coupled with the coattail effects of President Barack Obama’s victory, that gave her the election. In addition, a top local Republican said Maldonado had offended some right-wing Republicans when he was in the state Senate, and these voters did not support him Tuesday.
Capps was prepared for a tough campaign: A newly drawn district narrowed the Democratic voter registration advantage, and the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the spigot for outside spending in elections.
“We knew when we started that we were going to face an onslaught of money,” Capps said Wednesday.
Jeff Millman, Capps’ communication director, said despite huge amounts spent on television ads by Maldonado supporters, Capps’ hundreds of volunteers and six volunteer centers were more effective than advertising.
“It’s real word of mouth, that’s what we do,” Millman said. “The super PACs advertise on TV, but they can’t replicate that which we have from our grass-roots program. Our motto was, ‘Well, they have the super PACs, but we have the people power.’ ”
The clincher, Millman said, appears to be a huge voter registration effort in Santa Barbara. In Isla Vista — the student community next to UCSB — about 12,000 new voters were registered before the election, and about that many new voters turned out to vote in the district, he said.
Capps said her campaign concentrated on personal contact — door-to-door precinct walking and phone calls to potential voters — instead of television campaigning. Capps said allies such as teachers and parent groups in support of Proposition 30 and union members opposing Proposition 32, the anti-union paycheck deductions measure, helped her campaign on the ground.
While some local Republicans gave a nod to Capps’ voter effort, voter registration and turnout were also keys to the race.
“It was a turnout election,” said John Peschong, chairman of the Republican Party of San Luis Obispo County. With the voter registration drive in Santa Barbara County, an already Democratic county with years of support for Capps, she was able to beat Maldonado, he said.
George Galvan, vice chairman of the county Republican Party, said that at least in San Luis Obispo County, Maldonado lost “because there were a lot of Republicans who didn’t want him to win in this county. Far-right-wingers shoot themselves in the foot to live by their principles.”
Maldonado offended them several years ago when, as a state senator, he joined Democrats in passing a state budget. Because Maldonado was not right wing enough, Galvan said, some local conservatives decided not to vote at all.
While Capps beat Maldonado by 54 percent to 45 percent with 119,345 votes to his 98,391 districtwide, the breakdown was not one-sided when looking at each county.
In San Luis Obispo County, where there are more Republicans than Democrats, Capps won by just 3 percentage points. But in Santa Barbara County, where the voter registration advantage leans Democratic, Capps won by almost 15 points.