2017-05-18 / Front Page

Actor to challenge Brownley for congressional seat

Political newcomer is ardent Trump supporter
By Dawn Megli-Thuna

Antonio Sabato Jr. Antonio Sabato Jr. Clint Eastwood, Sonny Bono, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Now Antonio Sabato Jr. has taken the first step to add his name to the list of entertainers turned politicians in the Golden State.

The former soap opera star and underwear model announced last week that he intends to challenge incumbent U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Thousand Oaks) for her seat in the House of Representatives in 2018.

Sabato filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission May 8, launching his candidacy to represent the 26th Congressional District, which includes most of Ventura County. Cities in the district include Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village, Camarillo, Oxnard, Ventura, Santa Paula and Moorpark.

In a phone interview with the Acorn, the 45-year-old said he decided to run because of what he called Brownley’s mediocre performance during her three terms in office.

Julia Brownley Julia Brownley “She should be thanking me for getting her name out there,” he said. “One hundred percent of the people I talk to don’t know who she is.”

Sabato has lived in the Westlake portion of Thousand Oaks for 12 years.

“It’s not too far from L.A., but it’s far enough,” the father of three said. “It’s a great community.”

Sabato said he is a conservative Christian who is pro-business, pro-law enforcement and pro-agriculture. A political newcomer, the actor stepped onto the political stage with a speech at the Republican National Convention in July 2016. A staunch Trump supporter, he earned national attention for saying he “absolutely” believes President Barack Obama is a Muslim.

“People complain about what’s going in government and nobody does something about it,” he told the Acorn. “You live once. I feel it’s my time to make something happen.”

To do that, he’ll have to swing the district from blue back to red. Before redistricting in 2010 took out most of Simi Valley and added Oxnard, the district was safely in Republican hands. Since redistricting, Brownley has been elected three times.

Herbert Gooch, a professor of political science at Cal Lutheran University, said the 26th District is a definite swing district. In 13 statewide races for president, senator and governor over the past 17 years, the area has gone to the Democrats seven times and to the Republicans six.

Brownley beat her last competitor, Rafael Dagnesses, by more than 20 points in the 2016 election after narrowly defending her seat against challenger Jeff Gorell by a single-digit margin in 2014.

Brownley’s senior adviser, Lenny Young, said the incumbent is confident her track record—which includes an expansion of the Veterans Affairs clinic in Oxnard and increasing funding for the Port of Hueneme—will win over voters.

“Elections are about ideas and hard work on behalf of constituents,” he said. “Ventura County wants a thoughtful leader who will fight for families and better paying jobs, not someone who will echo President Trump’s extreme agenda.”

Before Sabato can face off against Brownley, he’ll have to beat out other primary opponents.

Republican Shane Skelton, a Thousand Oaks corporate consultant and former congressional staffer to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Ohio Congressman Bob Latta, has also announced his candidacy for the house seat.

Gooch said moving from “Melrose Place” to inside the beltway may be a tough role for a political newcomer like Sabato, who first rose to fame on “The Bold and the Beautiful.”

Even with wide name recognition, he’d likely have an uphill battle to secure funding from the county and state Republican parties. Facing a strong incumbent in a district located next door to that of embattled Republican Congressman Steve Knight, the Republican Party is unlikely to spend big in the 26th District race, Gooch said.

“Julia is not only the incumbent, this will be her fourth race,” he said. “It’s pretty hard to see anybody beating her. Republicans don’t have a real personality that’s known in the area.”

Sabato’s ardent support of Trump and his policies may prove to be a liability, Gooch said. Last week the actor’s official Twitter account directed a tweet to Trump’s personal account saying, “You are doing Amazing Mr. President, you need anything I am here for you Pal. #draintheswamp.”

Mike Osborn, chairman of the Ventura County Republican Central Committee, said GOP voters turn out reliably even in non-presidential election years, making Brownley’s seat vulnerable.

He said fundraising was the most crucial aspect of the campaign right now and having local GOP strategist Charles Moran in charge of fundraising gives Sabato an early advantage.

“It looks like Antonio has the inside track,” he said. “He gave a speech on national issues at the RNC. He’s got good credentials.”

His newly minted candidacy isn’t the only reason the actor has been in the headlines.

He filed for divorce from his wife, Cheryl Nunes, in December. And on Monday news broke that his estranged spouse is seeking sole custody of their child, claiming he still abuses prescription anxiety medication.

Sabato has been public about receiving treatment for prescription drug abuse in the past. He said battling addiction—particularly Ventura County’s heroin epidemic— would be a major priority for him in office.

“I understand it and went through it myself,” he said.

The Italian-born actor’s foray into California politics hasn’t stood in the way of his acting career.

He is currently featured in the drama “Hilton Head Island” on Pure Flix, a faith-based entertainment production and distribution company. He’s also in the upcoming Christian film “One Nation Under God.” He plays a jaded senator swayed by the faith of a Christian teenager fighting to keep the words, “one nation under God,” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Having the role coincide with his campaign is art imitating life, he said.

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