VENTURA COUNTY — Santa Monica’s State Assemblywoman Julia Brownley announced Monday that she will be making a run for Congress in the newly-drawn 26th Congressional District in Ventura County.

The announcement comes two weeks after Ventura County Supervisor Steven Bennett made a dramatic exit from the race, driving down to the Democratic Party Convention in San Diego to tell delegates that he would not be vying for the Democratic nomination.

Bennett’s departure left a large hole in a race otherwise populated by unknowns, said Brian Leshon, secretary of the Ventura County Democratic Club, and many progressives are excited to see a candidate with as much experience as Brownley throw her hat in the ring.

“A lot of the activists were concerned that we needed someone who had state or countywide recognition,” Leshon said. “We felt that someone like Julia coming in would solve that problem.”

Brownley, a former member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education and longtime education advocate, will term out of the 41st Assembly district she currently represents after six years of service.

She also received Bennett’s endorsement, a call to his financial supporters to help with her campaign and even his campaign manager, Lenny Young.

“Julia Brownley shares my values on the major issues facing our country, including a strong, public commitment to the critical need to bring the Republican leadership of this House to an end,” Bennett wrote in a statement. “Combining those values with her proven fundraising ability and strong organizational support makes her the candidate best positioned to defeat Tony Strickland.”

Strickland (R-Moorpark), was a member of the State Assembly between 1998 and 2004. He was elected to the senate in 2008.

Brownley is coming into the race late in the game, and she has more to worry about than Strickland.

The redistricting process that took place last year made the Republican-held seat more friendly to Democrats, and four, including Brownley, have flocked to the race.

Political newcomer David Cruz Thayne’s campaign manager Alex Thompson took a shot at Brownley last week when she first made noise about entering the race.

Thompson warned in a statement that Brownley could be attacked for living outside the district and being too liberal for Ventura voters.

“Democrats should think long and hard about supporting a candidate who lives far outside the district and will be subjected to attacks for not only being a carpetbagger, but for representing ‘Santa Monica values,’” Thompson wrote.

Leshon dismissed Thompson’s barbs, saying that Ventura Democrats are “hungry for progressives.”

“It’s going to take a strong candidate that people are going to rally around that will be able to solidify the support and put the others in position to drop out,” Leshon said.

It’s important to get the weak links out early in order to avoid dividing the Democratic vote.

California’s new top-two primary system means that the two candidates that get the most votes go on to the general election in November, regardless of party affiliation.

Redistricting helped Democrats, but it will take a lot of money and work to secure the 26th District.

“I think we can win this seat. We need to win this seat,” Leshon said.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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