When Democratic congresswoman Lois Capps announced she would not seek another term in Congress, no one expected the Democratic-leaning seat on the Central Coast would become a high-profile battle. But it has. In fact, it's turning out to be one of the most expensive congressional races in the entire country.
The 24th Congressional District is as diverse as the two candidates vying to represent it. The district spans San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and a sliver of Ventura counties. The varied terrain is known for oil platforms, agricultural fields, luxury coastal estates and a wine industry made famous by the movie "Sideways."
Lois Capps has represented the district since 1998. She was elected to replace her husband, Walter Capps, who died of a heart attack only nine months into his first term.
Capps has thrown her support behind fellow Democrat Salud Carbajal, who frequently references his blue-collar Mexican background.
"Look, I’m the son of a farmworker," Carbajal says. "I immigrated to this county when the immigration system worked. We need comprehensive immigration reform in a way that provides a path to citizenship, certainly secures our borders."
Carbajal was elected to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors in 2004, and is considered by many as a safe, steady, but not terribly exciting Democratic pick — all of which is in stark contrast to the profile of his opponent, Justin Fareed.
The 28-year-old Republican grew up in the wealthy enclave of Montecito, just outside Santa Barbara. He attended UCLA and has never held public office. Critics have attacked his lack of experience, which Fareed has tried to brush off by touting his success as a local businessman.
"I think you have to look at the totality of one’s background and experiences," Fareed says. "I grew up here in Santa Barbara building a business from scratch with my family -- packing boxes, taking inventory, going to different chambers and trade shows."
Carbajal has stressed stricter regulation of the local oil industry, following the Refugio Oil Spill in 2015. Fareed, on the other hand, is concerned primarily with supporting businesses and job creation.
Both stances play well in a district that is deeply divided. In the June primary, Democrat Carbajal finished first, more than 20,000 votes ahead of Fareed.
Congresswoman Capps won re-election in 2014 by just 3 percentage points. And with the seat now up for grabs, Super PACs and other nonprofits have poured nearly $3 million into the race, making it one of the most expensive in the country.
On top of that, Carbajal has personally raised around $2.8 million, while Fareed has raised roughly $2 million.
Jerry Roberts, a longtime political observer on the Central Coast and former editor of the Santa Barbara News-Press, believes voter registration trends favor Democrats.
"I think in the beginning, Republicans had a sense that they might be able to turn this as an open seat from blue to red, because the registration was pretty close, only plus-three Democratic," Roberts says. "Since then, Democrats have expanded their registration edge."
Independent handicappers confirm the seat leans Democratic, but it's hardly a sure bet.
Both candidates have experienced turbulence in their campaigns in recent weeks.
Carbajal was overheard by a political opponent calling the town of Lompoc the "armpit" of Santa Barbara County. This sent the Fareed campaign on the offensive with TV attack ads charging that "elitist insiders like Carbajal have been looking down their noses at us for years."
At the same time, Fareed has been dealing with a problem plaguing many other Republicans -- Donald Trump. After initially making supportive statements about Trump, Fareed has tried to distance himself.
All of this has made the race especially bitter in the closing weeks of the campaign, as voters decide who will represent their district. Will it be the Democratic political insider who worked his way up through the party, or the outsider pushing a message of economic growth?