SANTA CLARITA – For the four Democratic challengers in the 38th Assembly District race, beating a path to Sacramento means navigating through this GOP stronghold few have survived. Still, some banking on the uncertainty of a wide-open race and low approval ratings for a Republican president believe they could finally paint this red district blue. “I believe a Democrat can win this race,” said Jim Alger, 36, of Northridge, who is running for the seat currently held by Assemblyman Keith Richman and has been campaigning in Santa Clarita for the past six months. “We have to be campaigning early to get any message out that we can.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2It won’t be easy. In 2004, Richman, R-Granada Hills, defeated Democratic challenger Brian Davis by more than 20 points to win a third term. Registration in the district, which includes Santa Clarita, Simi Valley and the northern San Fernando Valley was 44 percent GOP, 35 percent Democrat. Little has changed in last 17 months – voter registration is now roughly 43 percent Republican, 34 percent Democrat. And the perceived GOP front-runner, two-term Santa Clarita City Councilman Cameron Smyth, has a campaign war chest of some $200,000, more money than all the other candidates combined. Bruce McFarland, president of the Santa Clarita Democratic Alliance for Action, expects the real campaign to begin after the June 6 primary. “We haven’t seen the real campaign from Cameron Smyth yet,” he said. “His campaign, as far as I can tell, is laying the groundwork for November. … And he’ll be tough to beat. He doesn’t seem to have really any visible weaknesses. “It’s only when you go below the surface, there’s not much there.” Alger, Sid Gold, Jane Lowenthal and Lyn Shaw are battling for the Democratic nomination, while Maria Barrientos will face off against Smyth for the right to represent the GOP. Granada Hills educator Peggy Christensen is running unopposed under the Libertarian Party. Democrats believe they have a shot. Richman, a moderate Republican, is termed out and running for state treasurer, and Smyth, who opposes gay marriage and illegal immigration and supports the death penalty, is seen as right of the popular assemblyman, though he has his endorsement. Also, the general ill-ease for President George W. Bush – his approval rating is in the mid-30s – could have an impact. “We don’t know how safe Republican seats are with the anti-Bush feeling throughout the country,” said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles-based think tank. Still, it’s the numbers game that will likely prevail. “There may be a few more Democrats, but if it’s 43-34, that’s safe Republican,” he said. “It would take a tsunami to bring in a Democrat.” Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, senior scholar at University of Southern California’s School of Planning and Public Policy, said Smyth seems to have the upper hand, but he still has one more hurdle to overcome. “He’s got the money, he has the good campaign,” Jeffe said. “The big question mark all over the state is the `decline to state’ voter. It’s about 17 percent registration in that district, which is pretty significant. Are they going to say, `hand me a Republican ballot, hand me a nonpartisan ballot or hand me a Democratic ballot?”‘ The four Democratic challengers all hail from the San Fernando Valley, and some have made Santa Clarita a key battleground. Alger, who has raised about $32,000, said he has looked beyond the June 6 primary, painting Smyth as an arch conservative. “He’s no Keith Richman,” said Alger, president of the Northridge West Neighborhood Council. “He’s no bridge builder. In Sacramento, he’s going to have to work with the people he lambastes all day long.” Alger believes in more responsive community planning, and lower-cost health care – issues he believe crosses party lines and would galvanize voters of all stripes to hit the polls. “It’s bringing the issues home. … There are too many people, even in Santa Clarita, who have to decide between cutting their drugs in half to pay the rent.” Gold, 62, is a Granada Hills psychiatrist and a vice chairman of the Granada Hills North Neighborhood Council. He has raised about $4,000 on his campaign and touts taxpayer-financed elections – so-called “clean money.” But he also supports the death penalty and abortion rights, provided there’s room for parental notification for minors – positions deviating from Democratic platform. “There is a clear difference between myself and the other three candidates,” he said. “If (Democrats) stick to the party line, they have no chance of winning. … I always think I would have a better chance winning the regular election than the primary.” Jane Lowenthal, 51, of Northridge is a professional mediator and arbitrator. She said she is expected to raise under $20,000, and touts good rapport with both Richman and Smyth. Lowenthal said her training in conflict settlement can help relief gridlock in Sacramento, which resonates even with Republicans. “We have to look to the issues,” she said. “It’s talking about improving the issues and taking care of the work that people need. I can bring a seasoned, cool, calm and collected perspective. “I want to make sure the 38th is a business-friendly district – bringing both labor and management together on business issues as both their financial lives depended on it.” Lyn Shaw, 48, of Sun Valley has raised about $11,000. She is married to a labor union official, and enjoys support from the state and county labor federations and the Teamsters. Shaw said winning the area means back-to-basics campaigning. “I’ll put a card in a person’s living room if I can get elected,” she said. “It’s really running a campaign of integrity. In districts that favor the Republicans, it goes back to that.” But it’s also about compromise, Shaw said. “There are going to be some difference in ideology,” she said. “But to get things accomplished, we have to work with both Democrats and Republicans.” email@example.com (661)257-5253160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. 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