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2020 March Primary Preview: 35th State Assembly District

The California Globe takes an inside look into the 35th Assembly District primary race

By Evan Symon, January 22, 2020 2:42 am

Incumbent Jordan Cunningham and challenger Dawn Addis in the  2020 35th Assembly District Race. (Photo: Twitter/Wikipedia)

The 35th Assembly District:

The 35th Assembly District is essentially San Luis Obispo County with a part of Northern Santa Barbara County.

It’s a mix of traditionally conservative and traditionally liberal leaning areas. An Air Force Base, farm areas, and union popularity mixed with oceanfront owners, Santa Barbara suburbs, and a college town make the district a mash of the political spectrum.

History of the 35th:

For decades the District has switched back and forth between  Republicans and Democrats. Assembly members have included everyone from the controversial Briggs Initiative Republican John Briggs to future Democratic state Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson.

Since 2012, the 35th have elected Republicans as Assembly members. However the margin of winning has been smaller and smaller each year. In 2012  incumbent Republican Assemblyman Katcho Achadijan beat Democratic opponent Heidi Harmon by 62% to 38%. But by 2018 Republicans slipped to nearly the margin of error, with Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (R-Paso Robles) narrowly defeating Democrat Bill Ostrander 56% to 44%, a figure that had not improved since the March primary that year.

On a statewide and national scale, the mix of political influences holds tight. While John Cox had more votes for Governor in the district in 2018, the district also narrowly voted more for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential race.

Jordan Cunningham:

Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

The Incumbent, Jordan Cunningham started off as a Member of the Templeton Unified School District Board of Trustees in 2014 before being elected to the Assembly in 2016 after former incumbent Katcho Achadjian launched his failed run for the U.S. House of Representatives.

While a Republican, Cunningham comes from the ‘California Republican’ breed and often splits with the party on many issues. During prior runs his more centrist approach has helped fend off rivals. He has sided with Democrats on many environmental issues but has also passed bills to help expand the wine industry in donations to non-profits, such as in AB 522. In addition to being pro-military while at the same time anti-predatory loans, Cunningham has survived being a Republican in a district that’s been slowly turning more and more blue.

Opponent – Dawn Addis:

Morro Bay Councilwoman Dawn Addis. (Youtube)

Morro Bay Councilwoman Dawn Addis is the sole challenger to Cunningham, both in the March Primary and in the General Election in November. A Morro Bay Councilwoman since January of 2019, Addis also has previous experience by organizing the 2017 Women’s March in San Luis Obispo.

While largely a backer of the general Democratic platform, Addis has distinguished herself early on by taking on harassers only a month into her city council term. In 2019 she also helped lead a push to create a new bilingual school in SLO county and backs a plan for a new aquarium in Morro Bay. Her seat on the council is generally considered safe, but it should be noted that she is only one year into her term.

What does this mean?:

While many districts have continuously stayed the same political party for years, the 35th has been an anomaly, shifting back and forth between red and blue. Previous primary figures have nearly always stayed true for the general election total largely either at or under a 1% difference in each election. This means that however the primary goes, the November election will go too. If it’s too close to call or within a few points in March, SLO and Santa Barbara County are going to see a LOT of fundraisers start to open up for the candidates and it will most likely be a drag race of funding to the finish.

Republicans don’t want to lose the last red district holdout that still touches the coast while Democrats want to retake a district that some party leaders are embarrassed a Republican even has in the first place, due to it’s proximity to more liberal-leaning areas, as well as destroying a perfect blue coastline on District maps.

It’s one district, but it’s a district that’s an almost even mix of urban and rural that either party wants to have. Being in an agricultural and coastal position also means possibly being on some powerful Assembly committees, which can easily make or break bills.

While no polls have come out over the district, the March primary figures, whether leaning Republican or Leaning Democrat, will tell a lot on who will win, but also if the district is keeping up with more Democrats living in the district, or if the Republicans managed to finally hold the line in a contentious district.

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Evan Symon
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