The Tea Fire isn't the only bad news coming out of the Santa Barbara and Ventura areas right now. We have a political misfortune as well.
As many of you know, California requires a 2/3 vote in the legislature in order to pass a budget. California has a budget crisis every year because extremist Republicans threaten to hold their breath until they can extract concessions from the majority Democrats. We only need two State Senate seats to get to a 2/3 majority in the State Senate, and our most promising pickup opportunity to do exactly that was in SD-19, with a high-profile, expensive (over $10 million) race featuring great Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson (who is currently evacuated from her house today due to the Tea Fire) and lying wingnut extraordinaire Tony Strickland. I canvassed and phonebanked for this incredibly tight race, but unfortunately it appears that we will probably lose by a very small margin after all the votes are tabulated.
Strickland has retaken a lead in the provisional and absentee counts that he is unlikely to relinquish barring a small miracle, as favorable Santa Barbara County is nearly entirely counted, leaving pro-Strickland Ventura County and the pro-Strickland sliver of L.A. County to probably pad his lead. The Santa Barbara Independent has more:
Tony Strickland surged to a 1,560 vote lead over Hannah-Beth Jackson Wednesday, on the strength of newly counted ballots in Ventura County. Santa Barbara county's registrar also reported counting new ballots, which favored the Democrat, but not by nearly enough to make up for the Republican's strength in Ventura.
It is the first significant lead for either candidate in the closely-contested 19th state senate district since Election Day, and puts Strickland in a commanding position, as counting continues in three counties with portions of the sprawling district.
The overall tally now stands at:
Strickland 187,631 (50.20)
Jackson 186,071 (49.79)
A 1,560 vote lead normally wouldn't be insurmountable with well over 50,000 votes left to count. Unfortunately, most of those voters are likely to accrue in Strickland's favor:
About 1,000 vote by mail ballots remain to be counted in Santa Barbara County, the only place where she has run ahead of Strickland, in addition to about 6,000 provisional ballots; the latter are likely to favor Jackson, as many of them are believed to have been cast by late-registering UCSB students.
However, Strickland is winning handily in Ventura County, which has about 40,000 absentees and 15,000 provisionals outstanding; he has also run well ahead of Jackson in the small part of the district that is in L.A. County. There, the registrar has about 225,000 more vote by mail ballots to count, but only a small number of them are in the 19th district.
Make no mistake about it: this is a tough loss to take if all goes as it appears. For me, it's even tougher than Prop 8, and not just because I live in the district. With Prop 8, there was a sense that we lost due to complacency and poor messaging; with Hannah-Beth, we made our best case and put everything we could into the fight, given the simultaneous urgency of a national election. The idea that extremist Phony Tony Strickland will be my State Senator for the next four years is literally sickening to me.
But there is some good news for the future that should worry both of the execrable Stricklands. Red Zone candidate Ferial Masry ran a surprisingly close race against Audra Strickland in the 37th Assembly district representing parts of Ventura and L.A. counties, coming within 3 points of victory in that tough district (and this despite numerous disadvantages in funding, candidate support and perceived "Americanness"). There is no reason to believe that we cannot build on this success by holding Audra accountable for her votes.
As for Tony? He's got three big problems. The first is that Ventura County flipped from red to blue earlier this year in terms of voter registrations--and those numbers have shifted even farther in our direction since. This is not just due to discontent with Bush and the Obama Effect: emigres from Los Angeles are swelling Ventura County's ranks as more and more Angelenos come to appreciate this oft-overlooked area's natural advantages. The path to victory for Republicans like Tony Strickland is only going to get steeper from here.
Second, Obama's first term will likely end up going smoothly with good approval ratings, or very poorly with low approval ratings. Given the precarious, sour and moody state of the nation, we're unlikely to see an apathetic, middling result. As a consequence, the next presidential election is unlikely to be a close contest one way or another. Our poor experiences in California this year will likely have taught us that we need to Stay for Change--especially if a Democratic Governor is elected in 2010, putting GOP legislators as the biggest remaining obstacle to real change in California.
But Tony's third and biggest problem is that as an incumbent he will have 4-year voting record in the State Senate. Tony's campaign this year was built entirely on lies; so much so, in fact, that I can say with all sincerity that he ran the most dishonest campaign I've personally had the misfortune of seeing up close. He will no longer be able to run as an "independent", as all his yard signs and mailers deceitfully claimed. He will no longer be able to claim "green" credentials by posing as an alternative energy entrepreneur. He will simply be the incumbent: the Republican incumbent, and with a track record to boot.
So assuming that demography is destiny and the remaining ballots sort themselves out as poorly as we expect, it's not the end of the road, but merely the beginning. The Stricklands will have earned themselves 2 to 4 years of respite through dishonest campaigning. More Democratic voters, increased intensity, and an unequivocal track record will see them on their way out of Sacramento in a few short years.