April 10, 2012 | While Rep. Pete Stark and his vastly younger Democratic challenger Eric Swalwell prepare to break out butterfly collars and chant “here comes the judge!” like its 1972, there is another candidate hoping to draw upon the addition of moderate to conservative voters drawn into the 15th Congressional District after redistricting last year.
Chris Pareja, a right-leaning independent for congress, said last Thursday that he’s ready to finally take on his Democratic opponents. It will be the first time all three candidates have appeared on stage together. Pareja, ran against Stark in 2010 as a write-in candidate after ramping up his campaign too late to get on the ballot. As a frequent attendee of Stark’s monthly town hall meetings going back two years, Pareja would routinely challenge Stark to debates only to be quickly and harshly rebuffed by the long-time congressman. “Would we I help you with your campaign,” Stark often told Pareja.
This time around, Stark has been noticeably polite to Pareja. Some of Stark’s staffers even go out of the way to call Pareja a “nice guy.”The change of tune is undoubtedly a political move hoping to use Pareja’s right wing ideology to siphon votes away from Swalwell, whose strategy appears predicated on cleaning up new moderate voters in the district centered in his Dublin-Pleasanton stronghold. The more candidates in the pool also limits the incumbents risk, especially in a top-two primary system where finishing second is the minimum for success this June.
Tuesday’s candidates’ forum in Hayward should reveal whether Pareja is aiming at Stark and hoping to knock Swalwell to third. It would be folly to believe Stark could finish third in a three-person primary, so why not knock the second Democrat out of the race? At a Hayward planning commission hearing last week over the proposed move of Walmart to the city, Pareja gave no indication of how he will attack his opponents Tuesday night, but took time to describe Swalwell’s recent public appearance as amateurish. Pareja not only referenced Swalwell’s panned performance before the Hayward Demos, but also mocked him for fumbling and dropping his lapel mic during a stump speech last month in Dublin.
If Monday’s ingenious retro ad by Swalwell that conjured up the ghosts of Stark’s initial victory over 81-year-old George P. Miller in 1972 is any indication, the campaign seem intent on ignoring Pareja and instead going directly at the incumbent.