CONGRESS 15Feb. 21, 2012 | It's still less than seven months from the November elections, but Rep. Pete Stark is going in for the early knockout.
Stark and his lone opponent for the June 5 primary, Dublin Councilman Eric Swalwell, are set to cross paths Monday night in Dublin with a chance to set the tone for much of the campaign season.
The risks for Stark seem clear on many fronts. Being seen in public face-to-face with the much-younger Swalwell poses the danger of giving voters a chance to view contrasts in each candidate's physical differences. Stark now walks with a cane while Swalwell takes every chance he can get to show he can easily tackle the rigor of a 5k run.
The meeting of the Tri-Valley Democratic Club in at the IBEW Local 595 union hall in Dublin is also Swalwell's backyard. Will he have a hometown advantage? The event features an opportunity for voters to pose questions to the candidates and is followed by a straw poll.
The vote is non-binding, but if Stark cannot attract enough of his supporters to the meeting, it immediately hands Swalwell an opportunity to trumpet a big victory. Swalwell could then begin the process of weaving an exciting narrative of a legitimate insurgent candidacy along with all the political romanticism such a storyline entails.
These are big risks, so why is Stark heading to Dublin to state his case after nearly 40 years in Congress?
It's instructive when thinking about Stark, his demeanor and his beliefs to remember there is a reason why he has remained in Washington longer than only a handful of lawmakers in the Beltway--he's a savvy risk taker.
Stark is aiming to snuff Swalwell's candidacy while its sleeping in its crib. Even though Stark isn't as ambulatory as years past, he can still deliver stinging comebacks while stating his case forcefully. Just a year ago, he stood resolute during a town hall meeting in Hayward as hundreds of Tea Party supporters loudly shouted him down. He was fearless and while his blistering comebacks often made the mob angrier, it showed he could still lob salient points while under significant duress.
While Swalwell will likely restate the obvious about Stark: he's out of touch with the district, too old, lives in Maryland and behaves badly in public (cue Stark's YouTube classics), he can't win a debate based upon experience and accomplishments.
Look for Stark to skewer Swalwell on this point. As an Alameda County district attorney and first-time councilman, Swalwell's lone accomplishment includes creating a wine commission for Dublin and nearby Livermore. His appeal is realistically built solely on potential. Nobody knows if Swalwell can actually hit a Major League fastball or if his knees will buckle if Stark snaps a breaking ball at the knees?
Stark is clearly looking for the early round knockout. A beat down in February over Swalwell would save Stark significant money. A good or surprising victory by Swalwell would do the opposite and likely open new access to campaign fundraising dollars for the upstart. Democratic donors out there don't want to waste money on an insurgent candidate without any chance of winning in November. They also don't want to alienate the existing local power structure if Stark, indeed, is re-elected.
Either way, its a rare early campaign season tilt likely to be referenced from here to June and all the way to November. Ding. Ding.