If Republican congressional hopefuls Tony Strickland and Stephen Knight felt a little odd attending a local Democratic club event--and at a labor union hall at that--they didn't show it at a Palmdale candidates forum featuring the two of them.
Both Strickland, a former state senator and assemblyman who represented Ventura County, and Knight, a sitting state senator from Palmdale, profusely thanked the Democratic Club of the High Desert for allowing them a chance to woo voters during a well-attended candidates forum at a machinists hall on Friday afternoon.
Knight and Strickland are competing to succeed retiring Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) in the Nov. 4 general election. And each knows he is likely to need Democratic votes in a district where the GOP holds a slim 38%-36% registration edge.
Club President Johnathon Ervin said he has taken some heat for putting on a forum featuring Republican candidates. But he said he wanted to help area voters make an informed decision regarding the only two choices they will have this fall for filling the 25th Congressional District seat.
Under the state's relatively new, voter-approved revisions to its election system, all the candidates for a given office appear on a single ballot in the primary and only the first-and second-place finishers, regardless of party affiliation, advance to the fall election.
Strickland and Knight finished first and second, respectively, leaving the Democrats without a standard-bearer in the fall.
The club invited voters of every political stripe to attend and some in the audience claimed there were just as many Republicans there as Democrats, with a fair number of non-aligned voters as well.
During the one-hour forum, Knight and Strickland tried hard to show voters there were significant differences between them. Knight attacked Strickland for living outside the district (which is allowed for congressional candidates); Strickland countered that his home was just two miles outside and that he had grown up in the district.
Strickland rattled off several bills he had worked on with Democrats while he was in the Legislature as evidence he could help break the gridlock in the House; Knight pointed out that Strickland had said in a written campaign statement that he wanted to go to Washington to defeat President Obama and Obamacare.
And they argued over who would be most accessible to voters outside their party and who would be more effective in bringing jobs and stimulating the aerospace-heavy district's economy.
The audience was enthusiastic about the forum, though divided about the candidates. A straw poll of attendees as they left the forum yielded 52 votes for Strickland and 51 for Knight, with 22 people saying they were undecided. Some declined to participate in the poll.
"This was a great start," said Ginger Stout, a retired high school teacher and a Democrat who said she definitely will vote this fall, despite the lack of a candidate of her party on the ballot.
"But I want to see more" before deciding between Knight and Strickland, she added.
"These are both very conservative Republicans," Stout said, "and there are so many other things I want to know before I can differentiate between the two of them."