ELECTION16 | There was a time not so long ago when the open seat in the East Bay’s Ninth State Senate District was billed as next year’s headliner. Three well-known former Assemblymembers with ties to the district went all-in. Then, in September, Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan dropped out of the race due to doubts over her ability to raise enough money for two races, in addition, to a need to focus on her family.

That leaves Democrats Nancy Skinner and Sandre Swanson as the front runners, But what first appeared as a three-way primary slugfest has lost some luster since Chan’s departure, an event which should help Swanson. Instead, there is a building sense that Skinner is consolidating a strong early lead.

The signal may have been strengthened with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s endorsement of Skinner this week. Schaaf is popular in Oakland and the city is by far the largest in the senate district. In addition, Skinner’s stronghold is Berkeley. Couple both cities together and Skinner has a clear path for a return to Sacramento after a two-year absence.

Also, don’t forget Skinner reported over $900,000 in campaign cash, a figure heavily fortified by her former Assembly account. Swanson, meanwhile, reported just $80,000 in the bank through the mid-year period and he is not known to be the most prolific fundraiser to begin with and there are worries about his health routinely swirl.

Swanson, though, has labor firmly on his side, along with the endorsement of every state and federal elected official in the area, including Rep. Barbara Lee. He may also have the inside track to nabbing the local Democratic Party’s endorsement, especially since Chan is not there to fracture the vote.

San Pablo Vice Mayor Rich Kinney, a Republican, is also in the race, but keep an eye out for Democrat Katherine Welch in the primary. She is an education advocate from Piedmont who recently left the Republican Party. She is also the daughter of former General Electric chairman Jack Welch.

If she can self-fund her campaign and make the race all about education, Welch could drastically change the dynamics of this race, even driving a wedge between the two labor-friendly front runners all the way to a spot in November general election.