Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, announced Monday that he plans to run for the House of Representatives next year, challenging freshman Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village, in the Ventura County-based 26th Congressional District.
The decision means that Gorell, 43, will forgo the chance to run for what would be his third and last term in the Assembly. It also confirms speculation that former state Sen. Tony Strickland, who lost to Brownley in 2012, will not be a candidate, as Gorell notes Strickland is among a long list of local Republicans who are endorsing his candidacy.
“Partisan games and gridlock in Washington are crippling our great nation. I’m sick and tired of it, as are most Americans,” Gorell said in a news statement released late Monday. “We need real leadership, not political posturing, to fix our broken Congress.”
Before facing off against Brownley, Gorell may have to fend off another Republican challenger in the June primary. Simi Valley businessman Rafael Dagnesses has formed a committee and is expected to formally announce his candidacy next month. He has said he will not defer to Gorell or another higher-profile Republican who might enter the race.
Gorell, a former aide to Gov. Pete Wilson and one-time Ventura County prosecutor, was elected to the Assembly in 2010. An intelligence officer in the Naval Reserve, he was called to active duty in Afghanistan and spent one full year of his two-year term fighting overseas.
He was narrowly re-elected in 2012, winning by less than 6 percentage points over a Democratic challenger who spent no money on her campaign.
In his statement, Gorell said voters in Ventura County “deserve a congressional representative who will focus on uniting the community. In the Legislature, I have built a reputation as an independent leader capable of working across the aisle.”
The decision means the 44th Assembly District, which includes Oxnard, Camarillo, Thousand Oaks and Moorpark, will have an open contest next fall, a development that will create an opportunity for potential candidates from both parties, as voter registration in the district is almost evenly split. Democrats hold a 2 percentage-point advantage.
Gorell’s entry into the race likely guarantees that the 26th District will become a major target for both parties, as it was in 2012 when $9 million was spent in one of the nation’s most expensive congressional contests.
Democrats hold a 5.5 percentage-point advantage in voter registration in the 26th, which some observers have classified as a “tossup” district. It contains all of Ventura County except for most of the city of Simi Valley and a small coastal strip that runs from midtown Ventura to the Santa Barbara County line.
Strickland’s endorsement of Gorell indicates Strickland will almost surely run next year in the neighboring 25th Congressional District if incumbent Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, decides to retire, as has been widely speculated.
Strickland formed a congressional campaign committee in April. Through the end of September, he had $431,000 in the bank that could be used for a 2014 campaign.
The 25th District includes Simi Valley and stretches into the Santa Clarita, Antelope and San Fernando valleys in Los Angeles County.
McKeon is also among the Republicans endorsing Gorell’s campaign, along with House Majority Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, retired Reps. Elton Gallegly and Bob Lagomarsino, Supervisor Peter Foy and retired District Attorney Mike Bradbury, who is Gorell’s former boss.
Gorell’s decision will likely trigger a flurry of interest among local elected officials and others interested in running for the Assembly.
Among Democrats, Oxnard Harbor District Commissioner Jason Hodge has said he might enter the race, as has Westlake Village businessman David Thayne, an unsuccessful candidate for the House last year.
In addition, former schoolteacher Eileen MacEnery, who lost to Gorell in 2012, has told county Democrats she is interested in running again.
Because Gorell’s decision to leave the Assembly and run for the House was somewhat unexpected, no Republicans have publicly expressed a desire to run. The filing period for candidates will open early next year and run through March 7.
One reason some observers thought Gorell might decide against running for a Washington, D.C., office is the timing of the campaign. His wife, Laura, and he are expecting their third child in the spring.