California's Democratic Party will pay close attention to this November's election in Ventura County for Assembly District 44. City Councilmember Jacqui Irwin (D) will face Pastor Rob McCoy (R) for control of the seat, a critical race in the Democratic Party’s strategy to regain a super-majority in the legislature.
Jacqui Irwin, an involved member of the Thousand Oaks community and a mother to three, touts her experience on the Thousand Oaks City Council as a reason to vote for her this fall.
"I’ve served as a nonpartisan member of the Thousand Oaks City Council for nearly a decade, where my priorities were job creation, public safety, and ensuring our environment is protected," she said in an interview for IVN.
The district encompasses Ventura County and was recently moved from "toss-up" to "leans Democrat" by AroundTheCapitol.com.
While voter registration in the district favors Democrats, the seat was previously held by Republican Jeff Gorell, whose willingness to cross party lines won him the support of voters in both 2010 and 2012. Replacing the second most moderate legislator in the California State Assembly will require both candidates to reach out to voters outside of their political affiliations.
For Democrat Jacqui Irwin, this will involve swaying a portion of the 55.2 percent of voters who cast a ballot for a Republican candidate in the three-person primary.
When asked how, as a registered Democrat, she will reach out to this group of voters, she responded:
"I’m going to reach out to every voter in the 44th Assembly District regardless of their party...The issues that are important to the 44th are not partisan issues and my friends and neighbors will respond to my message of being an independent leader." - Jacqui Irwin
The number of total independent voters in California reached 3.8 million in May 2014. Reflecting the statewide sentiment of dissatisfaction with the two major political parties, over one-fifth of voters who registered in AD-44 did so with no political affiliation.
Both candidates in Assembly District 44 have talked about crossing party lines in order to reach all voters in the district, not just those who share their party affiliation.
This is a direct result of the nonpartisan, top-two open primary, which has made all candidates in California accountable to all voters as early on as the primary election.
California's nonpartisan primary system, approved by voters in 2010 under Proposition 14, means that voters no longer have to request a ballot from one of the two major parties in order to participate. All voters and candidates, including independents, have the opportunity to participate on a single ballot, with the top-two vote getters advancing to the general election.
Empowered by the state's new election system, this portion of the voting population had a direct impact on the primary election results. Vying for the support of independent voters will be critical in both candidates’ campaign strategies.
"As a mother of three, I know that ensuring our children have a quality education is not something that is a partisan issue; it’s simply the right thing to do," Irwin noted. "I think that when the voters look at my record, they’ll see that I’ve worked with people who are Democrats, Republicans and Decline to States to get things done for my community."
Irwin's ability to mobilize Republican and unaffiliated voters in her district will decide the outcome of the election. Furthermore, a victory for Irwin in AD-44 will likely be needed to secure the 53 seats needed for a Democratic super-majority, making this a highly contested race.
Editor's note: Rob McCoy's campaign was reached for comment, but we were unable to secure an interview.