Despite months of tough campaigning in the tightest race of her career, Rep. Lois Capps defeated Republican challenger Abel Maldonado by a sound margin Tuesday, securing her seat in Congress representing the Central Coast for another two years.
With all precincts reporting, Capps secured 54.8 percent of the vote on the Central Coast, with Maldonado garnering 45.2 percent.
Capps and her supporters were celebrating at El Paseo restaurant in Santa Barbara on Tuesday night when she offered a few thoughts on her win.
“Democracy is about winning and losing and moving forward — and we’re moving forward tonight,” she said.
She congratulated Maldonado for his campaign and many years of public service, and celebrated the victories of her fellow Democrats: Hannah-Beth Jackson in the state Senate and Das Williams in the state Assembly.
Surrounded by her family, she thanked her campaign staff and volunteers for their months of work, saying it was “the most beautiful campaign I’ve ever participated in.”
She gave a specific shout out to the young people who came out to vote, especially college students in the Santa Barbara area.
Capps has represented the Central Coast since 1998, and never really faced a serious election challenge, but the rules of the game changed for her when California’s legislative and congressional districts were redrawn in 2011.
Redistricting changed the race into a more competitive one for Capps, taking the oddly shaped 23rd district that trailed up the Central Coast from Oxnard to the border of Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties, while inland — and typically more conservative — regions were moved to another.
The new 24th District took its place, and included all of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, and a small part of Ventura County.
By the end of the night, Capps was ahead by only three percentage points in San Luis Obispo County, but was ahead in Ventura County with 62.5 percent of the ballots. In Santa Barbara County, Capps won with 57.2 percent of the votes.
During her campaign, Capps focused on her 14-year track record in Congress, her position on women’s rights, and her role in Congress voting on pivotal issues such as the Affordable Care Act.
Both candidates were dogged by tax issues during the campaign. Earlier this year, it was revealed that Capps failed to report rental income from a staffer living in her residence.
In turn, Maldonado’s family farming business is still in a tax dispute with the Internal Revenue Service over millions of dollars in deductions.
Those issues turned into fodder for a media blitz on both sides, bombarding television viewers with attack ads and clogging up mailboxes with mailers.
Maldonado issued a statement on Tuesday evening, congratulating Capps on her victory.
“For anyone today who supported my campaign, I am honored and grateful for your support, not just today, but throughout my life in public service,” he said. “It wasn’t easy, but nothing ever worth fighting for ever is and even though the outcome wasn’t the one we had hoped for, this was a campaign we all can be proud of.”
Looking forward, Capps told Noozhawk that the biggest issues facing the country over the next four years are the economy and getting ordinary Americans working again.
“We’ve got to strengthen the economy,” she said, adding that she plans to work to extend tax cuts for middle class Americans.
And to the voters, Capps said, “Thank you. No matter who you voted for.”