Capps Out in California;
The Cortez Masto Effect In Nevada

April 10, 2015 — Veteran California Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara), aged 77, announced Wednesday that she will not seek re-election to an eleventh term in office next year for her CA-24 seat. The congresswoman entered the House via a special election victory in 1998 after her husband, Rep. Walter Capps (D-CA), passed away suddenly; he was first elected in 1996 but suffered a fatal heart attack at the Washington Dulles Airport less than a year after winning his seat. Lois Capps finished her husband’s term and has been re-elected ever since.

The 24th District contains Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, along with part of Ventura. The California Citizens Redistricting Commission made this district much more competitive as Capps’ 55 and 52 percent victory margins in the past two elections suggest. The 2001 congressional map created a coastal district for Capps (then numbered CA-23), slanting the seat to the ideological left in order to help the Democratic incumbent hold the seat. Thanks in large part to map construction, Capps had little in the way of challenges throughout the decade.

But it was becoming clearer that Republicans have a chance to convert the new 24th as a direct result of including all of the more conservative San Luis Obispo County in the district. Republican Chris Mitchum, son of deceased actor Robert Mitchum, pulled 48 percent against the congresswoman in the last election despite spending less than one-quarter the amount of money of his opponent. A stronger candidate could possibly have done better perhaps even scored an upset over Capps in what became a very favorable Republican year.

The individual attracting the most attention as a potential successor is political consultant Laura Capps, the congresswoman’s daughter. Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal (D) is also expressing interest. Republican rancher and businessman Justin Fareed, a former UCLA football player who ran a close primary race last year, had announced his candidacy well before Rep. Capps made her retirement plans public. State Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian (R) is another possible candidate.

Rep. Capps becomes the 14th House member to either leave Congress or announce retirement to take effect at the end of the current two-year session. Each party currently holds seven of the 14 seats. Three districts are vacant and headed to special elections later this year, and all are Republican-held. Expect a competitive CA-24 open seat race next year.

Nevada Senate

In an email message to her supporters, former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D) announced that she will run to succeed retiring Sen. Harry Reid (D) next year. In his retirement statement, the senator endorsed Masto as his successor even though she had not yet publicly committed to run.

On the heels of her announcement, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, in a statement from chairman Jon Tester (D-MT), also added its backing for her fledgling campaign.

If elected, Masto would become the first Hispanic woman to ever serve in the Senate. She reiterated that winning the seat would be “an honor, and an incredible opportunity for me to fight for all Nevadans.”

As an open seat, the Nevada contest will be close, hard fought, and adds a new dimension to the presidential battle for the state’s six electoral votes. The Silver State has been a key battleground since the 2000 presidential contest. The race becomes a “must win” for Democrats if they are to have any chance at re-claiming the majority they lost in 2014.

Masto has only run for one office, that of attorney general. She scored identical 52.8 percent victories in both of her elections. As a two-term incumbent, she was ineligible to seek a third term in 2014.

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