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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

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The new primary dynamic

Uploaded: May 1, 2012
The open primary that is just about five weeks away has created a new dynamic.
The new approach means that all voters will receive the same ballot and can vote for anyone standing for election to a particular office. That contrasts with the traditional party primaries where the top Democrat would advance to face the top Republican.
Now, in the 15th Congressional District, it's very likely that it will be two Democrats facing off in November. The district includes much of Alameda County.
Sitting at dinner with a group of older and mostly conservative guys, it was striking to hear a long-time active Republican tell his colleagues to support Dublin City Councilman Eric Swalwell in his uphill battle against 40-year incumbent Pete Stark in a contest between Democrats. Yes, that's 40-year incumbent, not 40-year-old. Pete is 80.
Stark lives in Maryland, but has represented portions of the valley for half of his tenure. The speaker supported the last seriously challenger to Stark back in the 1970s.
Swalwell's grassroots campaign has the notoriously loose-lipped Stark making outrageous allegations in public. Despite his tenure, Stark's fellow Democrats wanted no part of him chairing the House Ways and Means Committee after Charley Rangel was forced to resign. Despite his seniority, he was passed over.
Stark's comments in an election forum were so out-of-line that the Tri-Valley Democratic Club sent him a letter demanding that he conduct a civil campaign based upon facts and the needs of the district.
With the top two vote-getters advancing to the November general election, it's quite likely that this race will continue throughout the summer and into the fall.
Given that the Democrats hold a 2-to-1 edge in voter registration (48 percent to 24 percent), a Republican need not bother.
If Swalwell receives a decent share of the votes in June, it will be interesting to see if the Democratic establishment continues to solidly back the ineffective Stark for another term years after he should retired or whether they'll shift to a freshman who will face a tough challenge from two or more challengers come 2014. Out of deference to Stark, they're sitting out this race.
Swalwell could be hoping to duplicate Rep. Jerry McNerney's success. The Pleasanton resident benefitted greatly from his write-in campaign against then-incumbent Richard Pombo in 2004 and then rode that name recognition to the Democratic nomination in 2006 and caught the perfect storm to win election to the House. He's since declined to face Stark after Pleasanton was included in his district and has shifted his attention east to a Stockton-based district.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Richard Winger, a resident of another community,
on May 1, 2012 at 12:01 pm

This good story would be better if it didn't refer to California's election system as an "open primary." Prop. 14 was not on the ballot as "open primary". A court ruled that it could not be described that way. "Open primary" has been defined in political science textbooks since 1907, and in US Supreme Court decisions since 1972, as a system in which each party has its own nominees and its own primary ballot, but on primary day any voter is free to choose any party's primary ballot.

But under Prop. 14, parties don't have nominees (except for President). It is not good writing to use one term to describe two very different things. It should be called a top-two primary.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Watson, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on May 1, 2012 at 7:25 pm

" the notoriously loose-lipped Stark "

Looks like Pete Stark is at it again.
Check out this video released by the San Francisco Chronicle today.

Web Link

Sorry, but this isn't the same man we sent to congress 40 years ago.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Tim Hunt, a resident of Castlewood,
on May 1, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Is it a surprise that Pete isn't the same as he was 40 years ago-- Who is? I can remember him humbly walking the Livermore Rodeo Parade route in a red gingham cowboy shirt and blue jeans while his opponent rode in a convertible back in the 1970s (Yes, I witnessed it firsthand). Today, he and Eric Swalwell would reverse those spots--if Pete even deigned to attend. Being inside the Beltway for years skews--even corrupts--perspectives. Pete certainly isn't alone in having become an aloof Beltway insider, but stands well as an example.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by PartyParty, a resident of Downtown,
on May 1, 2012 at 9:58 pm

"If Swalwell receives a decent share of the votes in June, it will be interesting to see if the Democratic establishment continues to solidly back the ineffective Stark for another term years after he should retired or whether they?ll shift to a freshman who will face a tough challenge from two or more challengers come 2014. Out of deference to Stark, they?re sitting out this race."

Sitting out this race??? The Democratic establishment has backed Stark as he has received the endorsement of the California Democratic Party. There is no changing ships from that process. The endorsement stands through the general election. Because of the CDP endorsement, the Alameda County Democratic Party and Tri-Valley United Democratic Campaign also support Stark. Who is sitting out?

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