Sen. Loni Hancock

OAKLAND | Jan. 21, 2012 | With the state’s new open primary season likely to pit Democrats against Democrat, the dog and pony show that is county endorsement selection process now looks a lot like an episode of “Family Feud.”

One big question in this brave new world of local party politics was partially answered Saturday afternoon with the party faithful easily endorsing state Sen. Loni Hancock over Assemblyman Sandre Swanson.

The party blessing of Hancock is a tough blow to Swanson’s nascent bid for the Berkeley-centric senate seat, some believe in play because of its redrawn district lines. The upcoming June primary will be the state’s first-use of the open primary system allowing candidates from all parties to compete against each other.

The top two finisher advance to a November runoff, but with the ubiquity of the Democratic Party in the Bay Area, it is likely two candidates from the same party will battle in the fall.

To receive the moniker of the party’s endorsement, candidates need 70 percent of ballots cast by local party officials, central committee members and representatives of chartered clubs and organizations. Endorsements offered Saturday need to be formally recognized at the Democratic Party convention Feb. 11 in San Diego.

Hayward Councilman Bill Quirk received a big boost for his campaign in the 20th Assembly district including his city, Union City and parts of Fremont. Quirk received a near unanimous stake of the vote, with challenger Jennifer Ong receiving a single seat. The endorsement may signal Quirk’s biggest challenge in the primary may come from outside his party from Union City Mayor Mark Green, who is now an independent.

In the East Bay’s other assembly race, Democrats could not come to a consensus on the Oakland-based 18th district. No endorsement was given, although Alameda Vice Mayor Rob Bonta’s 18 votes barely beat out AC Transit Boardmember Joel Young’s 16. Peralta Community College Trustee Abel Guillen and Kathy Neal each received 9 votes.

The outcome of the votes does little to separate four candidates all drawing their strength from traditional East Bay constituents and labor groups. Young’s attempt Saturday to snag the title of top voter despite allegations last year he hit his then girlfriend in the face may show he is still a contender in a race likely to be very competitive all the way to November.

Despite what one voter called an impressive speech before county party leaders by Eric Swalwell bidding for Rep. Pete Stark’s seat in Congress, the party easily gave the endorsement to Stark despite the fact the 39-year veteran of Congress neglected to grace their presence Saturday afternoon. Stark held town hall meeting earlier in Fremont and San Lorenzo ending at 12:30 p.m., but did not make an appearance at the endorsement meeting that started at 1 p.m. Swalwell received just five votes.