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Election Drama: Carbajal, Limón Endorse Cathy Murillo For Santa Barbara Mayor

Less than two weeks before Santa Barbara voters elect a new mayor, two prominent elected officials have come out in support of candidate Cathy Murillo.

Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, and Assemblywoman Monique Limón announced on Wednesday that they are supporting Murillo, in what is expected to be a close race for the city’s top elected spot.

The news broke on Carbajal’s Facebook page, and then later confirmed via a press release by Murillo’s campaign manager, Mollie Culver.

The endorsements come at a time of dissension among the Santa Barbara County Democratic Party and top Democrats over whom to support for mayor. Three Democrats are in the race, Murillo, Hal Conklin and Harwood “Bendy” White.

Typically in Santa Barbara elections, one Democratic candidate emerges as the leader of the party. For the past two election cycles it was current mayor Helene Schneider and Marty Blum for eight years prior to that.

This year, however, the Democratic vote has splintered between Murillo and Conklin, a former mayor and City Council member and White, who currently is on the council.

The Democratic Party for much of the past decade has successfully cleared the field so that Democrats would not compete with each other for the seat, allowing the party and its wide base of activists to get behind one single candidate in the race.

That didn’t happen this year.

The official Democratic Party has backed Murillo, but several prominent Democrats, including former congresswoman Lois Capps, her daughter, Santa Barbara Unified School Board Member Laura Capps, and Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams, who backed Murillo in two previous City Council campaigns, have thrown their support behind Conklin.

Those moves are likely to confuse undecided voters who identify as Democrats and want to support the party’s values.

Santa Barbara Mayor Schneider, who fell out of favor with the Party in recent years, has endorsed White.

All of this is good news for mayoral candidate Frank Hotchkiss, who is the only Republican in the race.

With Democrats split on which of the three candidates to back, Hotchkiss could emerge as the first Republican mayor of Santa Barbara in nearly five decades. Or the drama could force the Democrats to organize a greater field campaign.

The value of the Democratic Party endorsement is that it comes with a wide base of activists who blanket the neighborhoods and make phone calls on behalf of their candidate. They also deliver literature to the doors of likely voters. The Democratic Party has historically had the largest network of election volunteers.

A recent poll paid for by veteran journalist Jerry Roberts showed Hotchkiss in first place and Murillo in second, with Conklin in third. Martinez and White were in fourth and fifth place.

The official Democratic Party fears a Hotchkiss victory and is urging its members to unify behind Murillo.

“After assessing the political landscape, I’ve decided to endorse Cathy Murillo,” Limón said. “The decision does not come lightly, as there are a number of respected community leaders in the race. But it is done knowing Cathy shares important values that will drive policy decisions for the future of Santa Barbara.”

"As a City Council member, Cathy Murillo has served as a leader in our community and a strong ally in the fight to protect our environment, create economic opportunities for working families, and improve public safety,” Carbajal said. “She is an effective advocate and unifier for our many distinct Santa Barbara neighborhoods. I am pleased to support Cathy for mayor."

Earlier this week, the Democratic Party made a plea to unify the party.

“It is now time for all Democrats to unify around Cathy Murillo, who is the only viable Democratic candidate in the race,” said party chairwoman Gail Teton-Landis. “Cathy Murillo would be the first Latina mayor of Santa Barbara and is the most progressive candidate in the race.”

The endorsements from Carbajal and Limón came on the same day that the Santa Barbara Independent endorsed Conklin, even though Murillo worked as journalist for the weekly newspaper for nine years, and the publication endorsed her twice before when she ran for City Council.

The Democratic Party candidates value the Indy's endorsement because many Santa Barbara liberal voters vote the Indy's slate. 

The election is Nov. 7, but nearly 7,000 ballots have already been returned.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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