CD15 Preview: More Democrats In South County May Lead The Way For Stark

ELECTION ’12//CONGRESS 15 

The most distinguishing factor from the June 5 primary was easily its lack of voter participation, not only in Alameda County, but all over the Golden State. In fact, just 31.3 percent of registered voters bothered to cast their ballot. More shockingly, only 9.77 percent of voters were enthused by their local races to hop in the car and drive to the polls on Election Day. However, primary voters are a different breed from November voters and their make-up is even more skewed because this is a hotly-contested presidential election.

A greater number of staunch Democrats hoping to keep President Obama on the job another four years certainly helps Rep. Pete Stark in his bid for a 21st term in Congress. Turnout on Nov. 6 could hit over 80 percent in the county. With an influx on new more of them recently added to the rolls via the Internet, largely trending to be younger and more liberal, the turnout could be even higher. However, that is if you believe no matter the method that young voters register, they should never be counted on to cast their vote come Election Day.

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According to registration numbers from the Alameda County registrar’s office the breakdown among parties in roughly the same spread over 300,000 voters:

Democratic…………49%
Republican…………22%
No Party Preference…22%

Both Stark and his challenger, Eric Swalwell, are Democrats and this early experiment of intra-party politics in the open primary system has drawn national attention. The media angle being the entrenched incumbent may be swallowed up by someone within his own party. An insurrection of sorts, that may not pan out, according to the numbers. Here are the final results from June:

Stark……………..42.1%
Swalwell…………..36.2%
Pareja…………….21.7%

Taking the results from the primary that also featured right-leaning independent Chris Pareja, there are two disconcerting data points for Swalwell come Nov. 6. One, he did not do as well in the Tri Valley, his perceived stronghold of more moderate Democrats, as he would have hoped. Second, while Stark was hampered by Swalwell’s plucky rise along with the inclusion of Pareja in the race, a natural outlet for disenfranchised Tea Party supporters and Republicans,  Stark’s largest percentage of voters came in solidly liberal south county cities whose percentage of votes cast were 3-4 percentage points below the county average.

HAYWARD
Stark……………..52%
Swalwell…………..24%
Pareja…………….15%
VTO……………….27.79% (-3.51%)

FREMONT
Stark……………..48%
Swalwell…………..25%
Pareja…………….18%
VTO……………….27.75% (-3.55%)

UNION CITY
Stark……………..55%
Swalwell…………..20%
Pareja…………….14%
VTO……………….31.48% (+0.18)

EDEN TOWNSHIP (mostly CV)
Stark……………..39%
Swalwell…………..33%
Pareja…………….18%
VTO……………….31.72% (+0.42)

You can assume the higher number of Democratic voters primed to vote for Obama in Hayward, Fremont, Union City and Castro Valley will gravitate toward Stark, also the officially endorsed candidate of the president. Those four locales also constitute a majority of the entire 15th Congressional District.

Swalwell, however, surprised some by his performance in Castro Valley where he pulled down a third of the vote and fell just shy of six points behind Stark. This is notable since long-time residents of Castro Valley are well aware of Stark and his perceived antics. He’s been the unincorporated town’s representative for most of his 40 years in Congress. In fact, one of the longest periods not under Stark’s representation came over a decade ago when former Rep. Ellen Tauscher’s district included Castro Valley. Swalwell was a former intern for Tauscher. So it is no surprise, Swalwell have focused even more on the hometown of liberal giant Rachel Maddow, in addition to cozying up to moderates and Republicans in the Tri Valley and San Ramon.

If this race is indeed a nail bitter, it will be interesting to see into which column the small swath of conservatives and larger group of independent voters fall into. This is harder to prognosticate because of Pareja’s decision to run as an independent when all indicators showed he was actually a very conservative Republican. He eventually donned the GOP moniker a few weeks after the primary.

Here are the big questions: will rock-ribbed Republicans even vote? Why bother if there is no “R” on their ballot for the 15th? If they do, they will likely take most of their voting bloc to Swalwell, but that group isn’t big enough for him to win, but their inactivity would surely equal his demise. Republicans simply do not matter anywhere in California. Period. The independents, though is where this election comes down to winning and losing. There are roughly as many voters labeled “no party preference” than there are Republicans in Alameda County.

Swalwell is hoping this group is angry with the State Legislature, angry with Congress and maybe angry with politics in general. Many people regardless of party feel this way, but often the “throw the bums out” rhetoric fails to materialize on Election Day. Many national and state political scientists believe this election is not showing these characteristics this year, either.

Stark’s biting mailer this week portraying Swalwell as a Tea Party fanatic is rightly excluding potential conservative voters and going straight to the party faithful likely to come out in droves. It almost says, “Hi, left-leaning independent, just wanted to remind you that my opponent, also a Democrat, has right wing tendencies. Thank you for your time!”

Since Swalwell has positioned himself as a vessel for change and new energy, the pouring in of new voters by way of online registration, might help him, in particular. As noted, potentially half of the over 1.1 million new voters statewide are from the youngest quadrant of the electorate. According to early vote-by-mail returns, this group is falling way behind in terms of getting their ballots to the county registrar, just 10 percent through Wednesday. In contrast, 26 percent overall have already voted in the county.

Stark’s potential for broadening his percentage of votes may be greater than Swalwell’s because of untapped more liberal voters in Hayward and Fremont, but the challenger’s uphill fight is even more cloudy by two unknown factors: will Republicans bother to vote and will young change-seeking new voter follow through on their initial impetus to recent register to vote?

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