The first is a Republican grocery clerk from Garberville, who is proud to have come in second regionally in grocery bagging. The Democratic challenger, a millennial, is trying to become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Finally, a North Bay middle school teacher is determined to run without a party and without campaign donations. ABC7 interviewed each candidate so you can decide.
The Incumbent, Congressman Jared Huffman (D)
Congressman Jared Huffman asked to meet in the lush greenery south of Point Reyes. Surrounded by nature, Huffman says the flowing water in the Lagunitas Creek captures some of what he has managed to accomplish since taking office.
"This creek has more water and more steelhead salmon today because of work that I did in the 1990's, when I started my career on the Marin Water Board," said Huffman. "I'm an outdoors person. I'm a fisherman. I'm someone who loves nature. I'm a former attorney with NRDC, a national environmental group, so this is part of the passion that drives me."
The 52-year-old Democrat is the U.S. Representative for California's 2nd District. He describes one highlight from his last two terms: helping to free journalist Jason Rezaian from Iran.
"I'd been working with others to help get him free for 18 months, and when I finally saw (Rezaian) in Germany in that Army hospital, he ran and gave me a hug," said Huffman. "I gave him a hat from his alma mater Marin Academy, and he put it on."
It's just one item on his agenda. Huffman spent six years representing the North Bay before he was elected to his current role in Congress, and he balances his time between Washington D.C. and San Rafael. He has made the regular trip back to see his family and district since he was elected in 2012.
"We're fighting to address terrible income inequality, to clean up a campaign finance system that is deeply broken, to lead on global climate change," said Huffman.
He says he views this election as a "golden opportunity."
"I've got so much that I want to do. I'm trying to take out four dams on the Klamath River, to restore a really important salmon fishery," said Huffman. "I'm constantly defending against bad ideas on California water and the environment. If we win a few races this fall, I will have an opportunity to be in leadership and move good ideas forward. That opportunity to actually do even more for my district and for our country is very exciting."
The Grocery Checker, Dale Mensing (R)
Dale Mensing says he is proud to have come in second regionally in grocery bagging.
The 57-year-old Republican lives in Garberville, and has been a grocery clerk for more than 20 years. Mensing is a cashier at Shop Smart Foods in Redway, and says that he has one philosophy that has carried him through every day:
"When I first became a checker, someone told me that 'Nobody is more important than anybody else, and therefore you should treat everyone like Princess Di if she came through your line. Now how would you treat Princess Di?' And I said, 'Well, I would treat her like royalty.' And he said, 'Well, there you go.' I don't think I've ever gone to work without that crossing my mind."
Mensing described his background, saying he was a Neuropsychiatric Technician in the U.S. Navy's Hospital Corps. He also worked as postmaster for Laytonville. Now, he's hoping to represent District 2.
"I'm an outsider, I'm not part of the system at all," said Mensing.
Mensing says the majority of his campaign funds come from setting up a table on the sidewalk in downtown Garberville or in the park.
"Most of it comes from a dollar here, and a five dollar bill there," said Mensing. "Since I ran last time, hundreds of people literally have told me I'm the only conservative that they have voted for because people want freedom. And that's what I am running for: I am running for freedom."
Mensing challenged Huffman in 2014. Our media partner, The Marin Independent Journal, reported that Mensing amassed 54,400 votes to Huffman's 163,124.
Our ABC7 crew met Mensing in Greenbrae at a Republican Central Committee meeting. He says he wants to nationalize the Federal Reserve and make schools more "patriotic."
"This is a free country, I am free," said Mensing. "I am so free that by my right of self-determination, I shouldn't have to buy health insurance. I'm so free that my friends and family shouldn't have to go to communist core education schools. That's how free I am, that's how free I want to be."
The Millennial, Erin Schrode (D)
Millennial Erin Schrode didn't make her candidacy announcement in the traditional way, accompanied by a press release. Schrode took to Facebook Live and watched the views roll in.
"The response! I sat in my bed here in Mill Valley and I clicked submit, and the world responded." said Schrode.
Her social-savvy philosophy and youth-oriented message is garnering a significant response online. Schrode is 25 years old, and is trying to become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
A little over a week after she went on Facebook Live, a company that makes short videos for social media picked up the story. The clip posted by "Now This" received more than 4 Million views in four days.
"Don't vote for me because I'm young," said Schrode. "But young people are better-equipped and better-poised to lead the future of this state."
Schrode has a background in environmentalism. She describes herself as a "citizen activist" and the Co-Founder of the Sausalito-based nonprofit Turning Green. Schrode says she has a passion for service: she has worked with refugees and has spent time volunteering in Ghana and in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake.
The pivot to politics wasn't an expected one. Schrode described the moment she decided to launch her campaign, after a conversation with an older male mentor:
"He said, 'Don't. You cannot run, you will not have the support of any environmental organizations. Just wait 20 years, sweetie.'"
Schrode says that moment touched a nerve, and served to propel her forward.
"Just this idea that you need to wait for someone else to give you authority to run. No. That's not how I've ever functioned," said Schrode.
Schrode agrees with Huffman on many issues, but says she provides a progressive female voice. She hopes the recent national attention on her age, her campaign and her social media success will help lead her to a win.
"If elected, I will be the youngest person ever elected to our House of Representatives," said Schrode. "There's never been a woman under 30 elected to national office in our country, which in my opinion, has to change."
The Middle School Teacher, Matthew Wookey (No Party)
Matthew Wookey is a middle school teacher in Novato. Our ABC7 crew caught up with him during his 8th grade U.S. History class at San Jose Middle School. His classroom has the normal Venn Diagrams on a projector and historical images on the walls, but there is one striking difference-a lot of money seems to be floating around his classroom.
Wookey calls the fake bills "Wookey Dollars."
"It's an old picture... the beard was much longer," said Wookey, referring to his photograph in the center of the faux-money he prints for the purpose of rewarding his students. "It's to try and reinforce the good things they do: answering questions, participating, doing well on projects, tests or homework."
He says his positive-reinforcement teaching strategy is paying off. The students work hard for the Wookey Dollars and then exchange them for pencils, erasers, or the most-requested item: dehydrated ramen noodles.
Wookey, of Petaluma, served in the Peace Corps before he became a teacher, an occupation he's now held for 12 years. Wookey says he has decided to run without a party affiliation.
"With what these parties have done, the Republican and Democratic parties both, I just never felt I could be a member... certainly when neither of those parties have made much of an effort to ask for forgiveness for many of their past sins," said Wookey.
He is adamant that he will not accept any campaign donations, calling them a "corrupting influence."
The 39 year old says Congress needs reform, a point that became even clearer to him when he became a father.
"When (my son) was born in 2012, that's when I decided I just couldn't sit on the sidelines anymore," said Wookey. "I didn't know exactly what chance I would have, but I knew I needed to try."
Wookey says watching the Presidential Election only further convinced him that now is the time to get involved.
"It almost feels like a middle school level, which makes me even more vastly qualified to work with people who are behaving much li
ke hormonal teenagers do," said Wookey.
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