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Contestants Jockeying for Hart's State Senate Seat : Politics: A Republican from San Luis Obispo County is the first to announce for the seat being vacated by the Democrat in 1994.


Only one week after State Sen. Gary K. Hart announced that he will quit his office in 1994, contestants have begun to jockey for his seat representing portions of western Ventura County and Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

Cattle rancher Steve Mac Elvaine, a former San Luis Obispo County supervisor, was the first to announce his intention Monday to represent the 18th Senate District, which includes Ventura, Santa Paula and Ojai.

"It's a Republican district, and it deserves Republican representation," said Mac Elvaine, who sits on the Republican Central Committee in San Luis Obispo County. The district is composed of about 43% registered Republicans and about 41% registered Democrats, according to recent state figures.

But one of the expected front-runners in the race is a Democrat--Assemblyman Jack O'Connell (D-Carpinteria), who has hinted that he will be a candidate for Hart's seat.

On Monday, O'Connell said he is leaning toward running but is not ready to make an announcement.

"I want to talk to my family," he said. "I think it's a little early."

The seat held by Hart, a Democrat, will be up for grabs in November, 1994, and candidates will file nomination papers next February. Mac Elvaine said he is campaigning early because he needs extra time to get his name known in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Santa Barbara political consultant John Davies said all the candidates in the race would be fighting to get name recognition outside their areas. "The battlefield is so spread out," Davies said. "It will be whoever can invade the other guy's territory."

According to Davies, few Democratic candidates will be a threat to O'Connell in the primary, and the Carpinteria assemblyman will be the strongest candidate for the Republicans to beat.

Karin Caves, Hart's press secretary, said she does not know of any Democrats interested in the office.

"Maybe everyone is just clearing the field for O'Connell," Caves said. "But in politics you can't assume anything."

Potential Republican candidates who said they are still deciding whether to join the fray are Santa Barbara County Supervisor Mike Stoker, State Energy Commissioner Charles R. Imbrecht and Assemblywoman Andrea Seastrand (R-San Luis Obispo).

Imbrecht, a former assemblyman who held O'Connell's seat, said he is preoccupied with the state budget, and will not make up his mind until after the budget is passed.

Eric Daniels, Seastrand's spokesman, said the assemblywoman has not yet decided because plenty of time remains.

Stoker said he is concentrating now on a proposal to reorganize Santa Barbara County government, and will consider Hart's seat if he feels he has accomplished what he wants at the county level. If O'Connell runs, his jump to the Senate would set off a mad scramble among Ventura and Santa Barbara politicians.

Ventura Mayor Gregory L. Carson, who is expected to be a Republican candidate, said he is not sure whether he will run. Other potential Republican candidates who expressed interest but have not decided whether to compete for O'Connell's seat are Santa Barbara business consultant Tim Campbell and Santa Barbara school board member Alan Ebenstein, who was the Republican nominee in 1992. Santa Barbara Supervisor Tom Rogers, a Democrat, is undecided.

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