WASHINGTON – A longtime California Republican congressman's last-minute withdrawal of his re-election bid has brought turmoil to his party back home.
Hardly anyone can run for the seat.
In a set of circumstances that has stunned local Republicans, Rep. Elton Gallegly's name will remain on the ballot despite his surprise announcement Friday — the deadline to file for re-election — that unspecified health problems were forcing him to withdraw.
Gallegly, a 10-term Republican, apparently thought that his withdrawal meant the filing deadline would be extended and other candidates could get into the race in the strongly GOP district north of Los Angeles.
But that extension didn't kick in because Gallegly had already filed. Many Republicans learned of the vacancy in the 24th Congressional District at nearly the same time they found out it was too late for them to run, officials said.
"There's a lot of frustration on how this was handled, a lot of potential candidates who will not have the chance now to run for Congress," said Leslie Cornejo, the Ventura County GOP Party chairwoman. "I'm going to say it's unprecedented."
The only names on the GOP primary ballot will be those of Gallegly and first-time candidate Michael Tenenbaum, 37, a lawyer who appears positioned to vault from obscurity into Congress — to his own surprise as much as anyone else's.
"I got a phone call saying you're going to be a congressman, the incumbent retired, and I thought, 'Oh someone's got some bad information,' and sure enough it was true," Tenenbaum said Monday.
"Obviously fortune favors the brave," he added.
In a statement Monday, Gallegly said he was exploring legislative and legal options for getting the filing deadline reopened.
"Obviously, fairness would dictate an extension of the filing deadline," he said. "I strongly believe that that there are several good candidates for office that would have filed (and hopefully will still file if allowed) for candidacy, if they knew I was not running. I had fully expected they would have that chance."
Gallegly and Tenenbaum do not know each other, representatives for both men have said.
There is also a Democrat on the ballot: Jill Martinez, a Presbyterian minister. But the district, where the number of registered Republicans outnumbers registered Democrats by more than 10 percentage points, is expected to remain in GOP hands.
The opening means there are three open seats in California's 53-seat House delegation.
The others were created by the retirement of House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas and the resignation of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who has been sentenced to prison for bribery. A special election for Cunningham's seat is set for next month.