North County's 76th State Assembly Seat Up For Grabs
California's 76th State Assembly seat in North County is the only open assembly seat in San Diego County this year. Incumbent Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside, is opting to run for the 49th Congressional seat.
Voter registration in the 76th Assembly District has changed significantly since Chavez was elected in 2012, when no Democrats entered the race.
Even two years ago, Republican registered voters outnumbered Democrats by almost 7,000 votes. This year Democrat and Republican voter registration is running almost neck and neck, and decline to state voters have grown faster than either party.
It is now a competitive district, and two Democrats are running, along with five Republicans.
Three of the Republican candidates have held elected office before: Vista City Councilwoman Amanda Rigby; Jerome Stocks, who served 12 years on Encinitas City Council and Maureen "Mo" Muir is on the San Dieguito Union High Board of Education. The Republican Party has endorsed Phil Graham, a businessman and step-son of former Gov. Pete Wilson.
Graham is the top fundraiser in the race, raising $240,000 for the June primary.
Thomas Krouse, a chartered financial analyst, ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2016 and businessman Brian Wimmer dropped out of the race this week to throw his endorsement to Graham.
Elizabeth Warren is vying with Tasha Boerner Horvath for the Democrat's vote. Boerner Horvarth is serving her first term on the Encinitas City Council and has raised the most — nearly $70,000 this year. Warren is a former journalist and progressive activist. The Democratic Party has not endorsed one candidate over the other.
A Competitive District
Republicans have less than a one-point registration advantage, but UC San Diego Political Science Professor Thad Kousser said the seat could flip, adding to the Democrats’ majority in Sacramento.
"Every pick-up is important," Kousser said, "and especially winning in an area — Oceanside, Vista — an area that’s traditionally been a Republican stronghold. Getting into that would be a real win for Democrats."
The district also includes Camp Pendleton, Carlsbad and parts of Encinitas. Kousser said the Republicans’ best bet to keep the seat is to field a moderate candidate like the incumbent.
"I think the best thing for Republicans would be to find another Rocky Chavez," he said. "Another candidate, who doesn’t seem to fit the President Trump mold, who can have an independent message, talk about why he or she is the right fit for that district and escape some of the national political tides that appear to be flowing against the Republican party."
Chavez said it’s up to the Republican candidates running to figure out their own message, but they need to reconsider what’s important to voters if they hope to keep the district.
"The candidates running, they’re not focusing on affordable housing, the environment, net neutrality," Chavez said. "Those are big issues."
Chavez is currently the front-runner among candidates to replace Darrell Issa, R-Vista, in the 49th Congressional District race.
Kousser said neither party has really come up with an effective solution for one of the biggest issues affecting San Diego County — the lack of affordable housing and how to tackle denser development.
"This issue of housing affordability — that wasn’t something that drove California politics just a few years ago," Kousser said, "this is something both parties are talking about but neither really owns. Voters who care about housing affordability don’t seem to have a clear party to turn to."
A Divided Political Landscape
San Diego is divided into seven state Assembly Districts: the three south and western districts are represented by Democrats: Lorena Gonzales, Todd Gloria and Shirley Weber. Three north and eastern districts are represented by Republicans: Brian Maienschein, Randy Voepel and Marie Waldron.
The June primary election is likely to set up a battle for the seventh district — the 76th — in San Diego’s North County that will be resolved in November.