June 4, 2012 | Progressive Democrats in the 15th district can gripe about redistricting that may diminish the blue hue of southern Alameda County, but blame the Guvinator and former guv-lite Abel Maldonado for this monstrosity called the open primary system.
The problem in CD15 was not a dearth of moderates, but the lack of a viable opposition party to rub up against. Nonetheless, the inclusion of the somewhat less liberal Tri Valley into Rep. Pete Stark's district made a primary challenge by a Democrat more likely, especially since no Republican existed before and none since. The lack of even a token Republican was a big mistake and could have transformed this race to an even greater extent. Instead, Chris Pareja, who ran against Stark in 2010 as a write-in candidate chose the moniker of "no political party." The theory goes, as it does in many East Bay races, that Republican voters will gravitate to those voters no matter what. By party affiliation, CD15 shakes down like this:
Pareja decision could make or break this race. Can he, with limited funds and name-recognition, capture enough decline to state voters from Swalwell, while also hoping the over 23 percent of conservative voters actually show up on Tuesday. On top of that, those same voters need to be educated enough on the fact Pareja is easily the most conservative candidate of the three. That's a lot of big ifs.
Stark, Swalwell, Pareja
During the June 2010 election, just 266,073 voter cast a vote in Alameda County, amounting to 35.30 percent of all registered voters. Swalwell needs that amount and more if he can hope to challenge Stark. Are primary voters in his targeted areas of Dublin, Pleasanton and Livermore really that pumped for change Swalwell supposedly represents?
In the top two primary system, Swalwell only needs to finish second and hope for more wild antics from Stark until November. However, strategically, Swalwell needs to get as close as he can to Stark's potential first place finish, while crossing his fingers that Pareja sinks and Swalwell benefits from a protest vote of Tea Party aficionados who don't think Pareja can win and would never vote for Democrats, except in the case of sticking their fingers in the eye of the hated Stark.
Judging from Stark's recent mailers (most of which are quite good), he is betting on his most loyal constituents--older voters--to win the June primary. Three mailers, for instance, one of which melds President Obama's endorsement, trumpet Stark's work with health care reform and his expertise on the issues seniors care about--Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Most consultants believe Stark cannot survive with anything less than 50 percent. Conversely, Stark garnering anything over 60 percent would mean curtains for either Swalwell or Pareja in the fall. Of course, that doesn't take into account Stark doing something out of the ordinary in the future. For instance, quoting Hitler during some League of Women Voters forum around Labor Day or something equally outrageous.
There's one other issue for Swalwell and the media that could ultimately be a blessing in disguise for Stark. Local television station, KTVU, ran a feature story on the race in CD15 that, like most produced by the media over the past few months, had an anti-Stark tone. The piece also implied Swalwell has a very good chance of winning Tuesday's primary. Nevermind that Swalwell doesn't implicitly needs to win, just finish second, for it to be a good night, but what happens to the general perception of the race, if the headline Wednesday morning is Stark wins?
You would think such a story, while positive, would have been followed by a Swalwell staffer quickly tamping down expectations, just in case, but no such language has been heard. The new lessons of the top two primary system may be consultants focusing on the prominence of merely managing expectations and perceptions, which could be more important than the actually tallying of votes this Tuesday night.