SD7: East Bay voters take part in yet another rough and tumble election

14th District Assemblymember Susan Bonilla 
and former 16th District Assemblymember 
Joan Buchanan at a forum in January.

STATE SENATE | 7TH DISTRICT | Last fall, voters in Contra Costa and Alameda counties endured one of the most aggressive, expensive, and odd Assembly races in California. Labor unions clashed with conservative groups; independent expenditure committees poured millions of dollars into the contest; and a moderate Democratic candidate decided to endorse the Republican contender rather than his fellow party member.

But just four months after Republican Catharine Baker won the 16th Assembly District race, portions of the same geographic area in the East Bay are embroiled in yet another bruising and costly — and strange — campaign: the March 17 special election primary for the state Senate’s 7th District. The top two finishers in the primary will square off in May to replace Mark DeSaulnier, who won a seat in Congress last fall, replacing longtime Congressmember George Miller.

Republican Michaela Hertle, featured in this
controversial mailer sent by a labor-backed IE,
could be the key to the election’s outcome.

The three main candidates in the race — Assemblymember Susan Bonilla, former Assemblymember Joan Buchanan, and Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer — are all Democrats and have received nearly $1 million in total donations since the beginning of the year. In addition, the amount of unregulated independent expenditure dollars is expected to top $2 million during the primary alone.

Surprisingly, though, money may not be the prevailing factor in the March 17 primary. Instead, the race may hinge on the fact that the lone Republican candidate who qualified for the ballot dropped out of the race and endorsed the centrist Glazer. (It was Glazer who endorsed the Republican Baker in last November’s election, rather than her competitor, Democrat Tim Sbranti.) In a state senate district in which Democrats hold a fifteen-point registration advantage over Republicans, but one-fifth of the electorate identifies as independent, which way GOP voters break on Election Day could decide the outcome.