Nearly two years ago, one accused the other of waging an war on women's health. Then, the other told an auditorium full of people he couldn't think of one nice thing to say about the other. And just three months ago, one claimed the other was bankrolled by a "Nazi collaborator."
One thing is clear: There will be no love lost between U.S. Rep. Salud Cabajal and his two-time opponent, Santa Barbara businessman Justin Fareed, when one of them prevails in the Nov. 6 general election.
Carbajal, 53, is wrapping up his first term as the 24th Congressional District's Democratic representative and received a strong showing of support in Tuesday's primary, coming out on top of Republicans Fareed and Morro Bay engineer Michael Erin Woody.
Carbajal secured 52.6 percent of the vote Tuesday while Fareed and Woody split the conservative vote 36.9 and 10.5 percent, respectfully. Both Fareed and Woody fared slightly better in San Luis Obispo County, with 37 and 12.7 percent, respectfully.
The district includes San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties as well as a slice of northern Ventura County. Democrats have an edge in the district, according to an April 6 count by the California Secretary of State. About 39 percent of the district's 372,829 registered voters are Democrats, 32 percent are Republicans, and decline-to-state and no-party-preference voters make up roughly 26 percent.
Fareed, however, has shown he can run a campaign and attract big money.
The 30 year old first ran for Congress in 2014 and came within 615 votes of defeating fellow Republican Chris Mitchum in the primary to challenge veteran Congresswoman Lois Capps, who ultimately won a 10th term before retiring. Two years later, Fareed went on to defeat a crowded field of primary candidates — including former Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, a popular San Luis Obispo County moderate — and raised more than $2 million before the end of what was one of the most expensive congressional races in the country.
Carbajal ultimately raised about $3 million with the help of the Democratic Party.
Carbajal wrote in an email Thursday that he's "very grateful to have received such a strong showing of support from Central Coast residents in this primary election."
He said he looks forward to a clean campaign in which he'll tout his accomplishments such as, he said, helping "return over $2 million dollars to our veterans, seniors, and neighbors dealing with wildfire and other disasters, that have had difficulty dealing with federal agencies."
Carbajal, a member of the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, wrote that "there is more that unites us on the Central Coast than divides us" when asked whether he plans to try appealing to more moderate and conservative voters in this race.
"One party doesn’t have a monopoly on good solutions, and through my service, both locally and now in Congress, I strive to reach across the aisle whenever possible," Carbajal wrote. “(The Problem Solvers Caucus) managed to find consensus on ways to bring down the rising costs of healthcare and prescription drugs that burden far too many families on the Central Coast as well as proactively addressing our immigration crisis and investing in our aging infrastructure."
Fareed released a statement Wednesday saying his "strong second-place finish" sends "a clear message that Central Coast voters are looking for a new generation of leadership that will represent our values."
Questions sent via email to Fareed on Thursday were answered by his campaign manager, Austin Stukins, who deflected questions about whether voters can expect more aggressive campaigning from his camp.
"What I can say is that Congressman Carbajal has a voting record that sides with Nancy Pelosi more than nine out of 10 times, and that sharing the facts of his record and how it contrasts with Central Coast values is important," Stukins said. "Mr. Carbajal sold our community a bag of 'bipartisan' goods in 2016 — saying he’d work in such fashion in Washington. So far the only one benefiting from his time in Washington is Nancy Pelosi."
Stukins cited job creation and supporting law enforcement and school safety as areas in which Fareed could pull independent and Democratic support.
But there is a history of bickering between the two sides.
After The Tribune published an article about Fareed's ties to the oil industry in January, Fareed released a statement accusing Carbajal of accepting $7,500 in "oil and gas money," a claim Carbajal denies but that Fareed repeats. A Tribune analysis found that Fareed's figures in question include personal donations from people who work as lobbyists, consultants and other positions for companies with varying degrees of proximity — some several degrees removed — to the oil industry.
Carbajal's spokeswoman, Tess Whittlesey, said Thursday that Carbajal's campaign will not accept campaign contributions from "oil drilling companies or the gun lobby."
Though Fareed accepted $2,500 from the National Rifle Association in the 2016 election cycle, he previously told The Tribune that he “will not be accepting a donation from the NRA this election cycle.”
But Stukins wouldn't confirm that when asked Thursday if there are any groups or industry's his candidate would not accept money from.
"That’s not the issue. Mr. Carbajal has received thousands upon thousands of dollars from dark money and special interest groups," Stukins wrote. "Justin will continue to seek the support of contributors who wish to see a change in the right direction for the Central Coast and Washington."
Stukins would not answer follow-up questions.
Meanwhile, Woody said Friday he was pleased with his campaign's results, noting he had gathered 11,726 votes as of Friday afternoon as a small, first-time (in San Luis Obispo County) candidate going against politicians who drew millions in campaign contributions.
"You can't feel bad about that," he said.
Woody said it was "extremely difficult," as a largely self-funded candidate, to get his message out to more voters earlier in the election. Everything "turned a corner" for him after a well-received performance at a KSBY candidates debate May 20, he said, and suddenly his voice and email inboxes blew up with positive feedback.
"The equation changed overnight," Woody said. "I just wish it had happened three months earlier."
Woody played it coy when asked whether he has future plans to run for office given that feedback.
"I will say that this (congressional race) is very intriguing to me," he said. "Like anything, we'll have to see."
Woody, who's made no secret of his misgivings about fellow Republican Fareed, said he feels he and Carbajal personally hit it off when the cameras turned off at the debates. Still, Woody was "very disheartened" by what he said was Carbajal's dodging of questions.
Because of that, Woody said he can not endorse either of his former opponents.
"It's not beyond me to leave the ballot blank," he said.