Star power? GOP picks up celebrity candidate in CA House race

Can Republicans pick up a Democratic seat in deep-blue Los Angeles on star power alone? We’ll find out in the 26th district race, currently occupied by three-term Democrat Julia Brownley. Antonio Sabato Jr, the soap opera star and outspoken celebrity endorser for Donald Trump, will throw his hat in the ring, according to the Los Angeles Times:

Actor Antonio Sabato Jr. is running for Congress, challenging Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Westlake Village), who represents the southern central coast and most of Ventura County, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission on Monday. …

Sabato is a longtime actor best known for roles in “General Hospital” and “Melrose Place” and as a model for Calvin Klein underwear. In recent years he has appeared in several reality television shows, including starring in “My Antonio,” a VH1 contest for which women competed for his affection, and “Dancing With the Stars.”

The 45-year-old was a vocal supporter of President Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign and spoke on his behalf at that year’s Republican National Convention. In an interview at the time, he said that that then-President Obama was a Muslim, which is not true. Sabato said afterward that he was blacklisted by Hollywood producers because of his visible support for Trump.

Until the 2010 census, the 26th district used to be a fairly Republican seat. Afterward, though, it became more Democratic, although not nearly as blue as the rest of the Los Angeles area. The Cook index rating for CA-26 is D+7, significant but not necessarily a gimme either. Brownley won in 2016 by twenty points against a relative unknown (60/40), but only barely got by in 2014 over former state Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, 51/49.

Sabato will attract a lot of attention to Westlake Village in 2018, and Republicans probably hope a lot of money, too. They’re also hoping that a political outsider will appeal to voters within the district in the same manner than gave Trump a surprise victory in November. Sabato plans to leverage his access to Trump as a big part of his argument for voters inside the district:

Charles Moran, who will serve as Sabato’s fundraiser, told the Los Angeles Times, “Being a Republican and with proximity to the White House and Republican leadership, he’s going to be able to get more done — being in the majority, with his notoriety, for the residents of the 26th [Congressional] District.”

That may be problematic, however. Hillary Clinton did slightly better than Brownley in this district, 58/36, last November. That was a marked improvement for Democrats over the 2012 election in CA-26, which Barack Obama won by only a 54/44 margin. Part of the issue is demographics; 43% of the district’s residents are Hispanic, almost entirely of Mexican descent, a demo that has gone overwhelmingly to Democrats, especially in California. (In case you’re wondering, Sabato is Italian.) The median income is well above the national average ($77,744), and a third of the adults have a college degree or greater level of education.

Still, celebrity counts for something, as we have learned in politics. Sabato could pull off a surprise in CA-26. If it works, though, don’t act terribly surprised when we’re saying “President Rock” in 2025.

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David Strom 12:01 PM on October 07, 2022