2012-02-16 / Front Page

Bennett won’t run for Congress

He was considered thefield’s leading Democrat
By Daniel Wolowicz

Steve Bennett Steve Bennett Steve Bennett has bowed out of the race for the 26th Congressional District, a last-minute move that left the Ventura County Democratic Central Committee unable to endorse a candidate and opened the possibility that another Democrat may step into the already crowded field.

Bennett, the Democratic frontrunner and current county supervisor, made the announcement the evening of Sat., Feb. 11—minutes before county delegates in San Diego at the California Democratic Party’s state convention were to vote on endorsing a candidate.

“It’s just unfortunate the decision couldn’t have been made much earlier,” Richard Carter, chair of the county’s Democratic committee, said of the decision.

Bennett said he’d talked to leaders in the county’s Democratic Party for “quite some time” about his intentions to end his congressional campaign, but the move reportedly caught many off guard. The recently redrawn 26th Congressional District includes most of Ventura County, including Oak Park and Westlake Village, and has more registered Democrats than Republicans. The primary is June 5.

Bennett said he left the race to thin the number of candidates and because he wanted to retain his county supervisor seat in light of the fact that Ventura City Council member Neil Andrews and Ventura County Fire Chief Bob Roper—both Republicans—are running for his seat. Ventura City Council member Christy Weir, an independent, is also running for the District 1 supervisor post.

“The candidates that are running for the board of supervisors, some of them, are very conservative and they could dramatically change the policies I’ve been working on for the past 10 years,” Bennett said. “It just became more apparent to me that I could make more of a contribution here serving as a supervisor than in Congress.”

During his three-month campaign, Bennett raised $240,000 in contributions, far more than any other Democrat in the race. Bennett said the money will be returned to donors.

Carter said that because the county’s Democratic delegates were unable to officially back a candidate for Congress—David Pollock was the top vote-getter but fell three votes shy of the majority vote needed for the endorsement— the county party will support the three Democratic candidates equally.

It will be an open primary for the U.S. House seat, which means the top two vote-getters in the June election—regardless of political party—will vie for the seat in the November election.

In addition to Pollock, a Moorpark City Council member, those running as Democrats include David Cruz Thayne, a Westlake Village businessman; and Jess Herrera, a commissioner on the Oxnard Harbor District.

Carter said the three candidates will now have a chance to woo individual support from the county’s dozen Democratic clubs—the biggest of which is the Camarillo chapter. Why is that relevant?

The Ventura County Republican Party has endorsed state Sen. Tony Strickland (R-Simi Valley) in the race.

Akiva Werbalowsky, a permaculture designer in Ojai, who originally entered the race as a GOP candidate, said Bennett’s announcement has led him to declare as an independent.

Strickland said Bennett’s departure “doesn’t change my strategy at all.”

“ My strategy has always been to be the top vote-getter,” Strickland said. “I’m going to be very aggressive at bringing in as many votes as possible. I want to connect with Republicans, Democrats and independents.”

County Supervisor Linda Parks is also running for the 26th District seat. Parks is a registered Republican but has opted to run as an undeclared candidate.

The field of contenders swelled shortly after U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Camarillo) announced he will retire and not run for the recently redrawn congressional district, as his hometown of Simi Valley sits in the neighboring 25th District.

Political pundits say the race for the 26th District will be closely watched by Washington and the nation. Like a handful of others across the state, the district—once a GOP stronghold—will be hotly contested as the newly redrawn boundaries include more liberal voters. David Pollock, a two-term Moorpark councilmember, said he’s now the Democratic frontrunner and that his campaign has enjoyed a surge in contributions this week.

“I’ve won six elections right here in Tony Strickland’s backyard,” Pollock said. “I know if I can win elections in Moorpark, I can certainly win elections in the rest of the county.”

Both Carter and Pollock said they want to see the county Dems unify in the coming months.

“The last thing we want to see is Linda (Parks) and Tony (Strickland) in November,” Carter said.

According to the Washington, D. C.-based Federal Election Committee, Cruz Thayne has raised about $64,000; Pollock has raised $49,000 and Herrera has not reported his financial information yet as of Dec. 31. Parks said she’s raised $50,000. Strickland, according to a press release sent out this week, raised $317,915 in his first day as a candidate.

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