With no Republican in the field for the race to fill the 80th Assembly District seat, labor leader Lorena Gonzalez announced Thursday the endorsement of longtime County Supervisor Greg Cox, a South Bay Republican heavyweight.
"I have worked with Lorena and I know she is committed to creating jobs and protecting the middle class,” said Cox, according to a press release distributed by the Gonzalez campaign. “With only two candidates in this race, I will be casting my vote for Lorena and encourage other South Bay voters to do the same."
Gonzalez is the secretary-treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, and Steve Castaneda is a four-term former Chula Vista councilman. They are each vying to replace former Assemblyman Ben Hueso, who was elected to the state Senate last month.
Cox, who has been on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors since 1995, is also a former Chula Vista mayor and councilman. Current Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox, his wife, is an adamant political rival of Castaneda's -- the two often butted heads during City Council meetings and their disputes were sometimes highlighted in the press.
Meanwhile, Castaneda, a Republican-turned-Democrat, is now trying to differentiate himself as the more conservative of the two candidates. His campaign is developing an economic plan that focuses on not raising taxes.
"I am fiscal conservative. We've got to get business growing and get jobs created," Castaneda said. "There's no reason why the Democratic Party should not be known as the 'jobs party.'"
Castaneda, who served on the Chula Vista City Council from 2004 until 2012, has received endorsements from National Latino Peace Officers Association San Diego County Chapter President Victor Gonzalez, and former Police Chief Bill Winters. He also was recently endorsed by Chula Vista Councilmembers Rudy Ramirez and Pat Aguilar; National School District trustee Barbara Avalos; newly-elected San Ysidro trustee Antonio Martinez; longtime Sweetwater trustee Pearl Quinones, and two candidates who ran (and lost) to serve on the Sweetwater board: Jesseca Saenz-Gonzalez, and former Chargers player Burt Grossman.
"I've got a slew of neighborhood endorsements. I've got people who work hard in this district every day who try to make it a better place," Castaneda said.
But Gonzalez is stacking up the big-name endorsements, including those from Republicans and conservatives. She has secured the endorsement of Nathan Fletcher, a former Republican San Diego Assemblyman, who became an independent during his bid for San Diego mayor. Derrick Roach, the secretary of the San Diego County Republicans, has also said he is voting for the labor leader. National City Mayor Ron Morrison has endorsed her and hosted a fundraiser for her at his home.
"I've worked hard to bring honest compromise to move things forward for the families of the 80th District. It's refreshing that our community's elected leaders -- whether they're Democrats or Republicans -- recognize that by endorsing my campaign," Gonzalez said.
Earlier in the race, she also received endorsements and support from the Chula Vista Democratic Club; San Diego Mayor Bob Filner; State Senator-elect Hueso; San Diego Councilmembers Marti Emerald, David Alvarez, and Todd Gloria; and National City Councilmembers Mona Rios and Alejandra Sotelo-Solis. More recently, she was endorsed by Congressman Juan Vargas.
The heavily Democratic district takes in parts of most South Bay cities and areas, including Chula Vista, National City, Imperial Beach, San Ysidro and southern San Diego. The district is comprised of about 48 percent registered Democrats, and 22 percent registered Republicans with nearly 180,000 voters.
Early polling showed that if a Republican had entered the field, Castaneda's chances weakened, and conditions improved for Gonzalez, who is largely viewed as the forerunner in the race.
Turnout is expected to be low for the May 21 special election, which was recently combined with the runoff special election to fill San Diego District 4 City Council seat. With only two candidates in the assembly race, the top vote-getter will fill out the term through the end of 2014.
Ed. Note: The day after this article was published, Roach released the following statement:
"Voters held hostage in a gerrymandered district often have to decide between the “lesser of two evils”. The special election for the 80th Assembly District race leaves South County voters with that dilemma. As a former candidate for that seat, I am aware that this seat was carved out for Democratic Party candidates. That’s why recent former Pacific Beach resident Lorena Gonzalez moved here.
Last week, I made a comment online suggesting that I may vote for Gonzalez over Castaneda. This comment was and is a demonstration of the “lesser of two evils” choice voters face in the 80th Assembly District. Make no mistake about it, Lorena Gonzalez is a big-government, tax and spend, loot the public treasury progressive.
Local media are using that statement to signify my support for Gonzalez- that simply isn’t true. Democratic politicians have driven businesses and retirees from California with their regulatory schemes and confiscatory taxation. Voters have two choices in this special election: the lesser of two evils or a choice not to vote for either. I choose the latter.
Derrick W Roach, Secretary
Republican Party of San Diego County"