On education, there is little difference between the candidates. Both favor class-size reduction in all grades. Mitchum favors school choice, though Jackson likes to point out that he has publicly favored vouchers as well.
On environmental issues, Mitchum and Jackson both want to stop the further expansion of offshore oil drilling and express concern for the cleanliness of the central coast's waters and beaches. Mitchum is raising private money to begin a cleanup effort, saying that getting government to take the lead will take too long. Jackson is still forming a plan that would include extensive testing and consolidate the clean-water agencies.
Given the competitive nature of the district, both candidates are relying on money from their parties to boost their name recognition among an electorate that favored Democrats for 20 years before Firestone's election.
One GOP consultant, however, questioned the party's commitment.
"The Republicans have no energy behind Mitchum in this race," he said, adding the GOP has tougher fights around the state.
Perhaps that's because they don't foresee the Reaganesque appeal of an actor-turned-politician materializing in Chris Mitchum.
"Ronald Reagan won and that's the example that everyone points to, but there are probably hundreds of examples of actors who lost," said Darry Sragow, campaign manager for the Assembly Democratic Caucus.
Like Reagan, Mitchum served in the leadership of the Screen Actors Guild, one of the country's largest unions, for six years in the early 1980s, including a two-year stint as a vice president. His conservative politics and friendship with John Wayne got him blackballed by Hollywood's liberal establishment, he says.
Mitchum does, however, claim several Hollywood supporters, including actress Bo Derek. More of his backers are CEOs and business owners, plus the sheriffs of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
Jackson's endorsement list features less star power--mainly city council members and supervisors from both counties. She also claims the California Organization of Police and Sheriffs and the California Teachers Assn. among her supporters.
Mitchum, with a jutting chin and combed-back hair reminiscent of his late famous father, stands to gain from name recognition and his dad's association with conservatives. Jackson is more widely known in Santa Barbara--where both candidates live--and especially in Ventura, said UC Santa Barbara politics professor Eric Smith.
"Her name has actually probably been in the papers many more times than his," Smith said. "He just hasn't been out and around."
"He's got a great advantage because he looks like his dad, but the voters want more than that," consultant Davies said.
While Jackson would like voters to see her profession as a sign of experience with lawmaking, Republicans are hoping that anti-lawyer sentiment will cost the Democrat some votes.
Mitchum, who is divorced, sarcastically referred to Jackson's law practice specialty as his "favorite kind" and says he has received reports "by the dozen" of what he calls her "questionable courtroom tactics."
In addition to his screen guild term and his service on several charitable boards, Mitchum has a professional record of his own, some of it available--if you look hard enough--at your local video store: "Lethal Seduction," "Biohazard: The Alien Force" and more than 50 other films.
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35th Assembly District
Party affiliation: Democrat
Residence: Santa Barbara
Occupation: Family law attorney
Education: Bachelor's degrees in government and sociology, Scripps College; law degree, Boston University
Background: A former Santa Barbara County prosecutor, Jackson has been an advocate of victims' rights for two decades. She was appointed by different California governors to the State Commission on the Status of Women and the Blue Ribbon Commission for Child Support Development and Enforcement.
Issues: Jackson believes California has done a poor job of investing in its future by not spending enough on education. She advocates building more schools and providing money to reduce class sizes in more grades. She says state leaders should help preserve open spaces and aggressively track polluters.
Party affiliation: Republican
Residence: Santa Barbara
Education: Bachelor's degree in literature from the University of Arizona
Background: The son of movie legend Robert Mitchum, Mitchum has acted in more than 60 films and more recently has begun writing and producing movies. He sat on the board of the Screen Actors Guild for five years in the 1980s, an experience he believes prepared him for politics.
Issues: Mitchum said he is an old-time Republican concerned with keeping taxes low and promoting a free-market economy. He believes state leaders should share more tax money with local cities and schools. He advocates a tougher approach to repeat criminals and wants to protect gun owners' rights.