Andy Caldwell held his first campaign rally on Dec. 7, under overcast skies, scattered rain showers, and a massive flag whipping in the wind.
His path to Salud Carbajal's 24th Congressional District seat began with a more than 10-to-1 fundraising disadvantage. A Sept. 30 campaign finance report shows he had raised about $67,303 compared to Carbajal's $983,220, and Caldwell's still getting his campaign personnel together.
Caldwell may still be getting his feet underneath him, but his supporters—approximately 300 of them—chanted "Andy" in unison, holding up banners, some wearing "Make America Great Again" hats. They congregated in the parking lot of the Radisson Hotel next to the Santa Maria Airport.
Some supporters handed out bumper stickers.
Caldwell walked among the crowd as various speakers stood atop the flatbed of a crane, which extended, flying a massive American flag.
Steve Lavagnino, Santa Barbara County's 5th District supervisor, went over his history with the incumbent congressman.
"I've worked with Salud Carbajal; I spent six years with him on the Board of Supervisors. And I gotta be honest with you, I like him as a person. He's a really nice guy, and I respect his service to this country," Lavagnino said. "But something happened to him when he went back to D.C. ... Salud has made a conscious decision that he doesn't think a conservative can beat him in this district. And so he's tacked to the left. He's moved left, and he's just decided that we don't matter."
Lavagnino said Caldwell was the sort of leader who would stay consistent.
"I want somebody that's not going to change," Lavagnino said. "And I know Andy Caldwell's not going to change. Look at his hairstyle. He's not changing. Andy's doing it his way."
Recent campaigns for the 24th District seat have drawn millions of dollars to support both the Democratic and Republican candidates. In 2016—an election with no incumbent—Carbajal raised $3.2 million in his winning bid, which garnered him 53.4 percent of the vote, while Justin Fareed raised $2.4 million and received 46.6 percent of the vote. In 2018, incumbent Carbajal sailed to victory with a $2.8 million war chest and 58.6 percent of the vote, while Fareed saw his support taper to $1.5 million and 41.4 percent of the vote.
Caldwell still has a ways to go to establish his campaign. So far he's corralled a Sacramento consultant, but he said he expects to get canvassers and other elements of his political ground game installed sometime in January, ahead of the March primary.
After the rally, Caldwell expanded on his platform, saying he wanted America to bring back the kinds of jobs that can elevate people to the middle class.
He also talked about the shortage of farm labor on the Central Coast.
"There is a critical shortage of labor, especially if it's considered backbreaking labor, for farmers but also construction workers," he said. "Our [agriculture] is year-round. The bottom line is most of the programs out there are not suited for our needs. But a guest-worker program is something I completely and totally support ... but I also want our border secure. I want it all." Δ