2012 Target Races – Part One: State Assembly

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

This year, due to redistricting and the new top two Open Primary, there will be more two-party competitive congressional and state legislative races this November than we have seen in this state in over a decade.

The California Target Book, which I publish, has tagged six Assembly races, four state Senate races and no fewer than ten Congressional races as Targets.

But the biggest game changer this November are the twenty-eight races where the contest is between two candidates of the same party: 18 Assembly, 2 state Senate and nine Congressional.

Part One of this series covers the targeted state Assembly races; Part Two will cover the targeted state Senate races; Part Three, the targeted Congressional races; Part Four, the 28 same party November runoffs races.

ASSEMBLY TARGETS

Assembly Speaker John Pérez recently sent out a press release tagging four districts as being on the Democratic leadership’s target list. All four are open seats – meaning there is no incumbent – and should they are successful in winning all four, it would be a net gain of only one seat, one short of a having elected a supermajority.  They are:

8th Assembly District (Eastern Sacramento County): Democratic Asm. Alyson Huber was expected to run in this new district, but she decided not to seek reelection. Looking to succeed her are Democrat Ken Cooley, a member of the Rancho Cordova City Council and a consultant to the state Senate Committee on Banking, Finance and Banking; and Republican Japanese American Peter Tateishi, chief of staff for Congressman Dan Lungren.  This is a very competitive district, with Brown outpolling Whitman in 2010, 50% – 43%, while Fiorina outpolled Boxer 48% – 43%.

32nd Assembly District (Central Valley): Both Democrats and Republicans have represented this area of the state in the last couple of decades, the last being Republican David Valadao, who is now running for Congress. On the Democratic side is Rudy Salas, a member of the Bakersfield City Council (first Latino elected to that body) and Republican Latino Pedro Rios, a former member of the Delano City Council and a former Democrat who reregistered in 2005. This is the only race among the four that a Democratic win would increase their numbers in the Assembly.

61st Assembly District (Riverside County): On the Democratic side is Latino Joe Medina, a Riverside Community College Trustee and teacher. He ran unsuccessfully for the Assembly in 2010, losing to Brian Nestande with 43% of the vote. The Republican is Moreno Valley City Councilman Bill Batey, who is of Black and Latino heritage, a 29-year veteran of the Riverside City Fire Department. On paper, this looks like a safe Democratic seat, with Brown outpolling Whitman 53% – 39% in 2010, and Boxer outpolling Fiorina 50% – 41%.  But the two Republicans and the NPP candidate – a former Republican –received over half of the votes cast in the June 5 Open Primary, which had a 21% voter turnout. The Republican Assembly leadership thinks highly of Batey and, since the primary, have channeled big bucks into his campaign.

66th Assembly District (L.A. County’s coastal South Bay): Democratic Asm. Betsy Butler represented nearly sixty-five percent of this new district but she is seeking reelection up the coast in the new 50th District. On the Democratic side is Japanese American Al Muratsuchi, a deputy attorney general with the California Department of Justice and a member of the Torrance School Board. On the Republican side is Craig Huey, a wealthy businessman and conservative political activist. He ran against Democrat Janice Hahn for Congress in a Special Election last year, spending over $1million (mostly his own money). Though he lost, he won all the cities that overlap this new district except Hermosa Beach. As in all the races above, except AD32, a Republican win would increase their numbers in the Assembly.

There are two additional races that the Target Book is currently tagged as targets:

40th Assembly District (San Bernardino County): When the Citizens Redistricting Commission approved the district lines, GOP Assemblyman Mike Morrell found his Rancho Cucamonga home in the newly drawn and heavily Democratic 41st Assembly district. Believing it too Democratic to win, he moved into the portion of Rancho Cucamonga that falls within this district. His Democratic opponent is Russ Warner, a wealthy businessman who three times ran unsuccessfully for Congress in the district represented by Republican David Dreier. This is a highly competitive seat where Brown and Whitman in 2010 both received 45% of the vote, while Fiorina outpolled Boxer 48% – 42%.  A Democratic win here, should they be able to win all the races shown above and the district below, would give them their supermajority.

49th Assembly District (L.A. County’s San Gabriel Valley): A heavily Asian district, the biggest surprise in the June 5 Open Primary was the strong showing of Republican Chinese American Matthew Lin, an orthopedic surgeon and former member of the San Marino City Council. In a district with only a 25% Republican registration, Lin was the top vote getter with 52%, followed by Democratic Chinese American Ed Chau with 35%. A third candidate, also Chinese American, received 13%. Chau, an attorney and a member of the Montebello School Board, is a close political ally of Rep. Judy Chu and her husband, Assemblyman Mike Eng. On paper, this district looks to be safely Democratic.  The key to a November victory for Lin is the large number of district voters who are registered as No Party preference (29%). Lin, a political moderate, is raising the big bucks needed to run a competitive race and the GOP leadership has gotten strongly behind him. This race was not on the Speaker’s target list. But it will be.

ASSEMBLY WATCH LIST

There are three districts that the Target Book did not tag as targets, but could become so should circumstances change.

21st Assembly District (Merced and Stanislaus counties): On the Democratic side is Adam Gray, a former aide to Rep. Dennis Cardoza and currently a manager of a public affairs and communications firm. The Republican is Jack Mobley, a small businessman and retired Air Force lieutenant colonel. This is a highly competitive district, with Brown outpolling Whitman 47% – 45%, while Fiorina outpolled Boxer 49% – 42%.  In the June 5 Open Primary, Gray raised and spent over $355,000. Several independent expenditure committees funded by the California Chamber of Commerce and other business interest spent a combined $240,000 in support of Gray. Mobley raised about $55,000, receiving 45% of the votes cast. Gray came in second with 32%, with three other Democrats on the ballot receiving a combined 23%. This is Mobley’s third run for the Assembly, running against Assembly Member Cathleen Galgiani in 2008 and 2010. Gray’s proven fundraising ability and Mobley’s lack of it keeps this race off the target list. But should be watched in case Mobley is able to come up with the resources needed to play here.

28th Assembly District (Santa Clara County): The incumbent is Democratic Assemblyman Paul Fong. His sole opponent in the June 5 Open Primary and now facing in a November runoff is Chad Walsh, a former Republican who is running as a No Party Preference candidate. Walsh, a patent attorney and a community college trustee, is raising a significant amount of money and eighty percent of the voters in this new district are new to Fong. For these reasons, the Target Book placed this race on their watch list, though a win by Walsh would be considered a major upset.

36th Assembly District (L.A. County’s Antelope Valley): An open seat due to Asm. Steven Knight giving up the seat to run for state Senate (new SD21). On the Republican side is Lancaster City Councilman Ron Smith, a retired L.A. County deputy sheriff. The Democrat is Steve Fox, a Lancaster attorney and former community college trustee. Fox ran for the Assembly in 2010 as a Republican, coming in a distant third behind Knight.  With only a two-point 39% – 37% GOP registration advantage, this is not a safe seat for Republicans. But there is as yet no indication that Fox will be able to raise the funds necessary to make this a competitive race.

65th Assembly District (north-central Orange County): GOP Asm. Chris Norby is seeking reelection in this new district that encompasses a little more than a third of the voters in his current district. Norby’s sole opponent in the June 5 Open Primary and now facing in a November runoff is Democrat Sharon Quirk-Silva, a member of the Fullerton City Council. She has been a teacher with the Fullerton School District for 24 years. Norby, who outpolled Quirk-Silva 59% – 41% in the primary, should be favored to win in November. However, he is running against a strong opponent who appears to be raising serious dollars – supported by EMILY’s List – in a district that has only a one-point 37% – 36% registration advantage.

NEXT POST: Targeted Senate races, and the Senate Democratic leadership’s attempt to achieve a supermajority in November.

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