If Tip O’Neill’s old adage that “All politics is local” holds up in November, Fremont Rep. Pete Stark could find himself abruptly retired after 40 years in Washington, D.C.
For Stark, who has lived in Maryland for years, the last thing he wants is a battle over who can best present the concerns of Castro Valley to Congress.
But that’s the type of race he’s likely to get when he squares off with another Democrat, Dublin Councilman Eric Swalwell, in the fall.
Swalwell, a 31-year-old Alameda County prosecutor, makes it clear where he wants his campaign to focus.
“We need a representative in Congress who lives in our community and has the energy and new ideas to solve problems,” he said in his June ballot statement. “I’ll never forget where I come from and who I represent, you.”
And the translation from political-speak?
“Pete Stark is 80 years old and has spent so much time on the East Coast that he’d have trouble finding a BART station in the district. I’m a former college soccer player who coaches youth soccer. And did I mention he’s 80 years old?”
For Stark on the other hand, it’s all about those 20 terms in Congress and the hundreds of millions of federal dollars he’s brought to the East Bay. He has an awful lot of chits out there in the district and he’ll be calling all of them in.
That might not be enough this time around, especially since California’s new Top Two ballot means he’ll face another Democrat in November, rather than the usual sacrificial lamb put up by the GOP in his Democrats-only district.
And it’s a big difference. Two years ago, Stark collected 72 percent of the vote in November. But last month, he eked out a 42 percent to 36 percent win over Swalwell, with the other 22 percent going to Chris Pareja, a conservative decline-to-state voter who it’s fair to bet didn’t collect a lot of votes from closet Stark supporters.
So while Swalwell might want to talk local issues, Stark’s campaigning on incumbency and inviting all his Democratic buddies to join the party.
A look at the two campaign web sites shows the difference. Swalwell’s endorsements include plenty of local mayors, council members, school board trustees and police groups.
It’s a different look for Stark. President Barack Obama tops his list of endorsements, followed by senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi and 13 other Northern California members of Congress and a trio of statewide officeholders: Attorney General Kamala Harris, state Treasurer Bill Lockyer and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.
He’s also putting his fate in the hands of his long-time friends in the labor movement, bringing in Sharon Cornu, a one-time AFL-CIO official and former Oakland deputy mayor, as his campaign manager.
And yet you have to wonder if those high-profile blessings from the big names in the Democratic Party and labor are what the voters in cities like Dublin, Hayward, San Ramon, Livermore, Union City and Pleasanton really want to see when they’re picking their next congressman.
Does it show them that Stark is one of the boys, with the important friends and political clout that 40 years in Congress can bring?
Or does it just remind them that Washington politicos – who aren’t exactly at the top of the pops right now — seem to like Pete Stark a whole lot more than people in his district showed they did just last month?
John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.