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.
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