2010 Primary Election Overview – Part 2: Open Seat Races

Allan Hoffenblum
Publisher of the California Target Book and owner of Allan Hoffenblum & Associates

(Read part 1 here)

In California, we no longer have an Election Day, but an Election Month.  And that month begins today, May 10, the first day that county election officials we be mailing June 8 Primary Election ballots to the more than 5.8 million registered voters who have signed up as permanent vote-by-mail voters.  And these voters will be able to cast that ballot by return mail anytime between now and June 8.

Last week I posted an article on incumbent challenges, but most of the action in this Primary Election will be in the two congressional districts, 10 even-number state senate districts and 29 assembly districts – total of 41 – that are OPEN SEATS – an open seat being districts that the incumbent is not seeking re-election due to term limits, running for another office, or retiring.  Because of gerrymandering, winning the Primary for the vast majority of these candidates is tantamount to winning the seat in November.

WHERE THE ACTION IS:

CONGRESS

Republican George Radanovich (CD19) and Democrat Diane Watson (CD33) are not seeking re-election.

CD19 (Central Valley; Safe Republican) has drawn four Republicans. The better know and raising the most dollars and endorsements are state Senator Jeff Denham, and former Cong. Richard Pombo. Denham, who has been endorsed by Radanovich and Pombo, who has been endorsed by Rep. Devin Nunes (CD21), are spending a good portion of campaign dollars attacking each other in radio and TV spots. Underfunded but coming from the vote-rich southern portion of the district are former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson (who ran unsuccessfully for congress in 2002, losing in the Primary) and Fresno City Councilmember Larry Westerlund, an Iraqi war veteran and former Tulare County district attorney.

CD33 (Los Angeles Area; Safe Democratic) has drawn four Democratic candidates, but the overwhelming favorite is former Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, who has received endorsements from the "who’s who" of California Democratic politicians, including incumbent Diane Watson. But Bass has a pesky challenger: Saying "it’s time for new leadership" is Felton Newell, 38, a prosecutor in the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office, former national treasurer of the College Democrats of America, former intern in the office of Rep. George Miller and, at the age of 22, worked in the Clinton White House.  The two other candidates, attorney Nick Juan Mostert and Inglewood community activist Morris Griffin are not serious contenders.

STATE SENATE

SD2 (North Coast – Safe Democratic): Four Democrats are vying to succeed incumbent Pat Wiggins, who is not seeking re-election due to health reasons.  The early favorite is Assembly Member Noreen Evans, who has the support of Wiggins, most Democratic elected officials, environmental groups, public employee unions, and the CA Democratic Party. But Evans may receive a serous challenge from Sonoma City Councilmember/businesswoman Joanne Sanders, particularly should pro-business groups but together independent expenditure efforts in support of her. Two other Democrats – school board trustee David Rosas and Guerneville businessman Tom Lynch – are second-tier candidates.

SD4 (North Central; Safe Republican): Two former hard-core conservative GOP Assembly Members  – Rick Keene and Doug LaMalfa – are battling each other to succeed San Aanestad, who is termed out this year. Both have raised big bucks, both have a long list of impressive endorsements and the top vote getter in June will cruise to an easy victory in November.

SD14 (Central Valley; Safe Republican): Five Republicans are running to succeed Dave Cogdill, who is not seeking re-election. The early favorite is GOP Asm. Tom Berryhill, the only candidate so far who has raised any significant amount of dollars.  The two candidates to watch if there is to be a serious challenge to Berryhill are businessman Bret de St. Jeor, a first-time candidate from Oakdale and Tom Marsella the sole candidate from Fresno who owns an investment advisory firm and who first ran for the assembly way back in 1978.  Heidi Fuller, an attorney and Air Force veteran from Columbia, and Tim Campi, a political newcomer from Manteca, are second and third-tier candidates.

SD16 (Central Valley; Safe Democratic): Kern County Supervisor Michael Rubio is running unopposed in June and will be heavily favored to win this seat in November (Obama won this district with 59% of the vote).  But two Republicans are battling for the right to take on Rubio, the best know being former Assembly Member/former state Senator Phil Wyman. Wyman – who first served in the assembly from 1978-1992 – briefly represented this senate district after winning a 1993 special election, but lost re-election in 1994. He again got elected to the assembly in 2000, and defeated for re-election in 2002.  Though former Gov. George Deukmejian, former Sec. of State Bill Jones and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has endorsed Wyman in this race, the Senate Republican leadership recruited and are supporting Dinuba realtor Tim Thiesen.  Interesting scenario, but whoever wins the Primary, a defeat of Rubio in November would be a major upset.

SD36 (Riverside/San Diego counties; Safe Republican): Incumbent Dennis Hollingsworth is termed out this year and the heavy favorite to succeed him is Assembly Member Joel Anderson, who started has race with a war chest just under $300,000. But it must be noted that Anderson has recently received bad publicity in the local press after being fined $20,000 by the FPPC for improper reporting of campaign funds.  Attempting to make a serous challenge is Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone, but Stone is lagging far behind Anderson in fundraising, as is Murrieta Valley school board member Ken Dickson.  The wild card may be Greg Stephens, the senior pastor at Father’s House Church International (Poway), which has a large congregation.

SD40 (North of the U.S./Mexican border; Safe Democratic): Incumbent Denise Moreno Ducheny is termed out and a bitter battle is being waged between Assembly Member Mary Salas and former Assembly Member Juan Vargas.  Independent expenditure committees (IEs) are heavily involved in this race, with Labor IEs supporting Salas and business IEs supporting Vargas.

ASSEMBLY

Room does not allow me to profile all the competitive Primary races, but following are the ones I find most interesting:

AD5 (Sacramento County; Possible November Target): Incumbent Roger Niello is termed out and six Republicans and four Democrats have filed to run in the June Primary.  Due to the significant drop in GOP registration this past decade, Democrats believe they have a chance to capture this seat.  The leading fundraiser on the Democratic side by far is Richard Pan, a physician and assistant professor of pediatrics at UC Davis. The CA Medical Association has organized an independent expenditure committee in support of Pan. But there are two other Democrats, both serious contenders if they are able to raise the funds needed to be competitive (and/or receive significant IE support): school board member Larry Miles and legislative advocate Matt Gray. Citrus Heights councilmember James Shelby dropped out of the race after receiving a gubernatorial appointment, but his name will remain on the June ballot.

On the Republican side, the heavy favorite, reporting over $258,000 cash on hand ($100,000 from the candidate’s pocket) is Andrew Pugno, an attorney and chief counsel for the group behind the successful 2008 Prop. 8 campaign to ban gay marriage (which passed with 55% of the vote in this AD). Among the five other candidates, the better known is Craig DeLuz, a Republican political activist who currently works in the Capitol office of Asm. Kevin Jeffries and was endorsed by the Sacramento Bee (the Bee endorsed Pan on the Democratic side).  But he and the other four candidates – Granite Bay attorney Suzanne Jones, Carmichael businessman Don Thompson, Loomis school board president Mike Edwards and Folsom magazine associate editor Chad Vander Veen – have yet shown to be able to raise the dollars needed to run a competitive race.

AD7 (Northern CA Wine Counties; Safe Democratic): Incumbent Noreen Evans is termed out this year and three Democrats have filed.  Michael Allen, an attorney and ex-district director for state Sen. Pat Wiggins, is being heavily supported by Labor and liberal organizations and has been endorsed by Evans. His campaign has received some bad publicity lately, following an announcement that he is being investigated by the FPPC for possible violation of conflict-of-interest laws while he was a member of the Santa Rosa Planning Commission; Allen has denied any conflict.  Allen’s most serious challenger appears to be Vallejo City Councilmember Michael Wilson a CFO of an architectural firm he co-owns with his brother; he is openly gay. Also running is Lee Pierce, an African American and former Santa Rosa City Councilmember (appointed) who failed in his attempt to be elected to the council in 2008.

AD9 (Sacramento; Safe Democratic): Incumbent Dave Jones is termed out this year and five Democrats are running in the Primary.  The last three incumbents were all members of the Sacramento City Council at the time of their election to the assembly, and two councilmembers are running this year: Kevin McCarty and Lauren Hammond (who ran in 2004, coming in third behind Davis). Making his third run for this seat is Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickinson, who is receiving strong support from public employee unions.  Another serious contender is Chris Garland, the political director of the powerful CA Faculty Association, which is supporting him.  Also running is Adam Sartain, an auditor in the state Treasurer’s office.

AD20 (Alameda County; Safe Democratic): Incumbent Alberto Torrico is termed out and two Democrats are battling each other in the Primary – Community College trustee Garrett Yee and Fremont Councilmember Bob Wieckowski. Independent expenditure committees are heavily involved here, with labor IE’s spending money in support of Wieckowski and business IE’s supporting Yee.

AD21 (Silicon Valley; Safe Democratic): Incumbent Ira Ruskin is termed out and three Democrats have filed to run in the Primary – former Palo Alto Councilmember Yoriko Kishimoto, San Mateo County Supervisor Rich Gordon, who is openly gay; and venture capitalist Josh Becker from Menlo Park. Kishimoto and Gordon are two well-known local elected officials, the new comer being Becker.  And somewhat surprisingly he is, as of this writing, the leading fundraiser in the race, showing almost $225,000 cash on hand as of March 17. Another race where independent expenditure committees (IEs) may become involved. The South Bay Labor Council (AFL-CIO), which has endorsed Gordon, recently reported spending $25,000 to pay for mailers in OPPOSITION to Kishimoto.

AD28 (Inland Central CA; Safe Democratic): Incumbent Anna Caballero is running for state senate and three Democrats – two Latinos and one Portuguese – have filed to run in the June Primary. Watson City Councilmember Luis Alejo is receiving strong support from public employee unions and liberal organizations. Salinas Councilmember Janet Barnes (Portuguese) describes herself as a "moderate Democrat" and is receiving strong support from pro-business independent expenditure committees. Also running is Francisco Dominguez, a member of the Gilroy School Board.

AD30 (Central Valley; November Target): Incumbent Republican Danny Gilmore is not seeking reelection and two Democrats and two Republicans have filed to run in the Primary.  This is likely to be one of the top target races in November.

On the Democratic side are Fran Florez, a former Shafter city councilmember (termed out in 2009) and mother of state Senator Dean Florez.  She ran for this assembly seat in 2008, narrowly losing to Gilmore.  But she is receiving Primary opposition from former Kern County Supervisor Pete Parra, father of former Democratic Assembly Member Nicole Parra who represented this seat until termed out in 2008.  Both Parra’s endorsed Republican Gilmore in the 2008 race, so needless to say, most Democratic leaders and their allies are strongly supporting Florez in this Primary (though the CA Teachers Association endorsed Parra).

The Republican Assembly leadership is strongly supporting David Valadao, a dairy farmer from Hanford.  But Valadao will face Primary opposition from Bakersfield business owner Stephanie Campbell, an African- American who ran for this seat in 2006 as a Democrat, but pulled out before the Primary.

AD32 (Kern County; Safe Republican): Incumbent Jean Fuller is running for state senate and three Republicans have filed to run in the Primary, but this is a hard-fought, bitter slugfest between Bakersfield businesswoman Shannon Grove, supported by former Rep. Bill Thomas, Rep. Kevin McCarthy and Jean Fuller, and self-employed businessman, school board member Ken Mettler, the former state chair of the California Republican Assembly, a statewide hard-core conservative grassroots organization. Also on the June GOP ballot is Shannon Holloway, a Bakersfield businesswoman who has dropped out of the race after telling a local radio talk show host that she was "enticed" to run for the seat by Mettler in the hope voters might become confused by having two female candidates with the same first name.

AD33 (Central Coast; Possible November Target): incumbent Republican Sam Blakeslee is termed out this year (and running is a June Special Election in SD15) and four Republicans have filed to run in the June Primary.  This is likely to become a bitter moderate/conservative ideological contest between the moderate Katcho Achadjian, a member of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors who has been endorsed by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, and former Asm. Brooks Firestone; and conservative Etta Waterfield, from Santa Maria who has been endorsed by Rep. Tom McClintock, Sen. Tony Strickland and Lew Uhler. But Waterfield is not the sole conservative in the race. A serious contender is Matt Kokkonen, a Tea Party activist who ran for this assembly seat in 2004, coming in a close second to Blakeslee and is reporting $143,000 cash on had (though it’s mostly his own money). Also running is Fred Strong, a member of the Paso Robles city council.

On the Democratic side is Hilda Zacarias, a member of the Santa Maria City Council who is running unopposed in the Primary.  This district has seen a sharp drop this past decade in GOP registration and was carried by Barack Obama in 2008, meaning this is on the Democratic leadership’s watch list.

AD47 (Los Angeles: Safe Democratic): Incumbent Karen Bass is termed out this year (running for congress) and five Democrats have filed to run – though it is a two-candidate race between Holly Mitchell, who runs a non-profit advocacy group championing childcare policymaking; and Reggie Jones-Sawyer, who works for the city of Los Angeles and is Secretary of the CA Democratic Party.  Mitchell has the strong backing of Bass and several other local elected Democrats; Jones-Sawyer is strongly backed by Rep. Maxine Waters, former Senator Richard Pombo, SEIU 1000, and other public employee unions; both are African American.  The wild card in this race is Ed Nicoletti, a homebuilder and real estate developer who is the sole white in the race.  The question is whether he will dig into his own pocket to fund his race.  Also running are Bob Jones, an African American and president of Baldwin Hills Conservancy; and Rafael Garcia-Rangel, a Latino and family services counselor.

AD50 (Southeast L.A. County; Safe Democratic): Incumbent Hector De La Torre is termed out this year and four Democrats have filed to run in the June Primary.  Ricardo Lara is a former district director for then Speaker Fabian Núñez. Lara had to move into the district to run. Núñez, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Assembly Speaker John Pérez have endorsed Lara, who is openly gay.  He is receiving a serious challenge from Downey City Councilmember Luis Marquez, who has been endorsed by the CA Teachers Assoc., League of Conservation Voters and Sen. Alan Lowenthal (his boss).  Also running is Carmen Avalos, the elected city clerk of South Gate, and Art Olivier, a former Bellflower councilmember who was the Libertarian candidate for Vice President of the United States in 2000, and the Libertarian nominee for Governor in 2006; he is now a registered Democrat. Independent expenditure committees might get involved in this race.

AD53 (Coastal L.A. County; Safe Democratic): Incumbent Ted Lieu is termed out this year and no fewer than eight Democrats have filed to run for this seat and the most serious contenders appear to be Kate Anderson, an attorney with the Los Angeles firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson and endorsed by Rep. Henry Waxman (worked for him); Betsy Butler, who works with the Consumer Attorneys of CA, which has endorsed her; Nick Karno, a deputy L.A. City Attorney and environmental activist who has been endorsed by the L.A. County Federation of Labor and SEIU 1000; James Lau, executive director of the League of Conservation Voters, endorsed by the CA Medical Association and the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus; Mitch Ward, an African American, mayor of Manhattan Beach, openly gay, who has been endorsed by a long list of local elected officials ; and Edgar Saenz, an attorney and congressional aide to Rep. Maxine Waters and active with the Westchester Neighborhood Association.  Also running: Peter Thottam, executive director of the Los Angeles National Impeachment Center who ran for his seat in 2006 as a Green Party nominee and is endorsed by Dennis Kucinich and Cindy Sheehan. Diane Wallace is a former elementary and high school teacher from Manhattan Beach. Two independent expenditure committees funded by business and tort reform interests have been spending some serious money in this race in OPPOSITION to Betsy Butler.

AD68 (Orange County; Possible November Target): Incumbent Republican Van Tran is termed out this year (running for congress), and two Republicans and two Democrats have filed to run in the June Primary.

Heavily favored on the Republican side is Allan Mansoor, an Orange County deputy sheriff and a member of the Costa Mesa City Council who has gained a reputation for being tough on the issue of illegal immigration.  His GOP opponent, Long Pham, is a member of the Orange County Board of Education, and has the reputation of being a perennial candidate.

On the Democratic side are two Vietnamese-Americans: Phu Nguyen (pronounced win), a Westminster entrepreneur who is strongly supported by state and local Democratic leaders and endorsed by the CA Democratic Party; and Joe Dovinh, a language translator for a federal court who supported John McCain for President in 2008.

The outcome in November may well depend on how the large Vietnamese-American community in this district – known as "Little Saigon" – will votes.  Known as reliably Republican in their past voting pattern, the question remains how the Vietnamese-Americans will vote when the Republican nominee is white and the Democratic nominee is Vietnamese-American.

Next week, I will post 2010 Election Overview – Potential Congressional and Legislative November Targets.

 

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