Early Look at Campaign 2014: Part 3 – State Assembly

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

We are one year away from the November 2014 General Election, and the California Target Book, which I publish, just distributed its fall edition to subscribers, analyzing and handicapping the upcoming races in California for congress and the state legislature.

Earlier, I reported on the key races for Congress (Part 1) and state Senate (Part 2).

Today, I am covering the state Assembly races; next I will cover the open seats (in safe districts) and possible same party runoffs.

It is too early to pinpoint with any accuracy where all the targeted races will be, but I can share with you as to which races, as of now, I believe have the most potential of being target races.

ASSEMBLY

As is true in the state Senate, no one doubts that Democrats will retain their majority control; the question is whether they can retain a two-thirds supermajority status by holding 54 of the 80 seats.

Currently at 53, most political observers expected the Democrats to pick up the 54th seat last Tuesday by electing Democrat Matt Dababneh in the Special Election in AD45 (San Fernando Valley) to fill the unexpired term of Bob Blumenfield, who earlier this year was elected to the Los Angeles City Council.

However, Dababneh, the district chief of staff to Rep. Brad Sherman, holds only a slim 173 vote margin over his GOP opponent, businesswoman Susan Shelley, a pro-choice, pro gay marriage social moderate and a pro Prop 13 fiscal conservative. With more than 2,800 late ballots yet to be counted, this race is too close to call.

Should Shelley win, the Democrats would stay at 53. They will have to wait until December 3rd, where a Special Election will be held in AD54 (Los Angeles/Culver City) to fill the unexpired Assembly term of Holly Mitchell, who was elected earlier this year to the state Senate. All three candidates on the ballot are Democrats, assuring a Democratic win and bringing the number of Assembly Democrats to 54, the number needed for a supermajority.

REPUBLICAN TARGETS

AD36 (D-FOX): An open seat in 2012, Lancaster attorney Steve Fox took this seat away from the Republicans and they want it back.  The 2012 pre-election edition of the CA Target Book wrote, “With Republicans having only a one point 38% to 37% registration advantage, this is not a safe seat for them, but the majority of voters here do have a Republican bias, making Ron Smith, a member of the Lancaster City Council and retired L.A. County deputy sheriff, the favorite to win in November.”

In a classic case of “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched,” the Smith campaign relied on the latter half of the statement and ignored the former – as did the GOP leadership. Believing the November runoff election to be perfunctory, the Smith campaign team all but stopped campaigning following the Primary. The result was that Fox, who spent only $21,000 and receiving no help from the Democratic leadership, squeaked through by a margin of 145 votes.

This district is trending Democratic due, in part, to the growing number of Latino voters currently at 25 percent. Both Obama and Feinstein narrowly carried the district (49% to 48%; 50.1% to 49.9% respectively) So it is not surprising that the Republican leadership actively recruited Latino businessman Lou Gonzales, the son of Mexican immigrants and owner of a auto dealership in Lancaster, to run for the seat.

Tag this race as the Republicans best bet for a pickup.

AD65 (D-QUIRK-SILVA): Then Fullerton City Councilmember Sharon Quirk-Silva took this seat away from the Republicans in 2012 by defeating incumbent Republican Chris Norby.

Norby was favored to win reelection, but again quoting from the 2012 pre-election edition of the Target Book, “Norby is running against a strong opponent in a district that has only a one point registration advantage, therefore we are placing the election on our watch list. (The district’s party registration is now even at 36% to 36%).

About ten days out from the election, we moved the race up to our Target list.

The reason for this was Quirk-Silva’s early success at raising serious dollars, followed by several Democratic county central committees funneling over $55,000 into the Quirk-Silva campaign and large contributions from several public employees’ unions. Quirk-Silva was thus able to raise and spend over $400,000, while the Norby campaign was caught napping.

In the end, Quirk-Silva outpolled Norby 52% to 48%. The win can also be partly attributed to both Obama and Feinstein, who carried the district 52% to 46%; 54% to 46%, respectively.

Two Republicans have filed statements of intention to challenge Quirk-Silva in 2014.

The stronger of the two appears to be Young Kim, a district representative and director of Asian Community Affairs for Rep. Ed Royce, chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee. Kim is also active in many Korean American organizations. Royce, Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, Senator Mimi Waters and Assembly Member Curt Hagman have endorsed Kim.

Henry Charoen is the mayor of La Palma and a Thai community leader. He was elected to the city council in 2006, the first Tai American elected official in the United States. He was born in Bangkok and immigrated to the U.S. in 1979.

The district’s Asian voter population is 19%, the largest groups being of Korean and Vietnamese heritage.

DEMOCRATIC TARGETS

AD44  (R-GORELL):  The U.S. Navy called Jeff Gorell back to active duty in 2011 for a one-year deployment to Afghanistan. He returned home in March 2012 to resume his duties as a first-term state Assembly Member and to seek reelection.  Gorell’s opponent in the November runoff was Democrat Eileen MacEnery, an unemployed English teacher who neither raised nor spent any money but received 47% of the votes cast.  This reflected the district’s large Latino voting population (24%), centered around the city of Oxnard, that overwhelmingly voted the straight Democratic ticket. It also did not help Gorell that both Obama and Feinstein carried the district 52% to 43%; 54% to 46%, respectively.

No Democrat has filed a statement of intention to challenge Gorell, but one will most certainly come forward.

The district also overlaps the congressional district represented by Democrat Julia Brownley. As of now, her announced opponent is former GOP state Senator Tony Strickland, who she defeated in 2012 (53% to 47%). But there is talk that Republican Congressman Buck McKeon, who represents a neighboring district, might not seek reelection in 2012, allowing Strickland the option of running for that seat.  This would give Gorell the option of giving up his Assembly seat to run against Brownley. However, Gorell has told friends that he is not interested in running for Congress.

AD60 (R-LINDER): An open seat in 2012, the top two vote getters in the June Primary were Democrat José Luis Pérez, a long time member of the Alvord School Board, followed by Eric Linder, a Republican businessman and the son of a Mexican immigrant father.

The pre-election edition of the 2012 Target Book wrote, “Though the district has a large and growing Latino voting population, we are still tagging this as a safe Republican seat.”

Well, safe if your opponent does not raise or spend any money, as was the case with Pérez. Linder, however, spent about $150,000, and narrowly won the seat with 52% of the vote.

The growing Latino population – over 53% of the population and 34% of registered voters – has made this district competitive, with both Obama and Feinstein outpolling their Republican opponents (51% to 46%; 53% to 47% respectively).

The sole Democrat to file a statement of intention is Jacob Daruvala, a 17-year-old (turns 18 in January) tech-savvy Norco High School student who has launched his campaign with an impressive website (jacobdaruvalaforcalifornia.com), facebook page and twitter feed. However, the young man will soon be more likely focusing on which college he wants to attend upon graduation than any campaign for Assembly.

AD40 (R-MORRELL/LIKELY OPEN SEAT): Incumbent Republican Assembly Member Mike Morrell sought reelection here in 2012. His opponent was Democrat Marc Warner, a wealthy magazine distributer who had run unsuccessfully for Congress three times in the old CD26, represented by GOP Congressman David Dreier.  In each of those races, Warner spent several hundred thousand dollars of his own money.

With Democrats having a one point 38% to 37% registration advantage, the Target Book tagged the Morrell/Warner race as a likely target. But Warner did not put big bucks into his race this time, raising and spending less than $200,000, of which $36,550 came from his own pocket. Nor did the Democratic legislative leadership show any interest in the race, allowing Morrell to eke out a narrow win (50.4% to 49.6%). My guess is that the Assembly Democratic leadership, for some reason, did not have a favorable opinion of their candidate.

Now, there is a high probability that this will be an open seat in 2014, due to Morrell announcing that he will be running in the Special Election early next year to fill the unexpired term of state Senator Bill Emmerson, who will be resigning his seat on December 1st.  It is speculated that the Special Primary will be held in April, with a runoff, if required, consolidated with the June 3 statewide Primary Election. Filings for the June Primary will open in March and it seems unlikely that Morrell would file for reelection to the Assembly at the same time he asking voters to elect him to the state Senate.

Tag this race as the Democrats best bet for a pickup.

NEXT: Open seats (in safe districts) and possible same party runoff

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