MEET THE CANDIDATES Very few legislative races in the state this June have candidates with as much experience as this East Bay state Senate primary. Nancy Skinner and Sandre Swanson are known quantities in the district that covers areas from Hercules to Richmond, through Oakland and Berkeley, and including Alameda and San Leandro. Both represented roughly half of the current senate district while serving in the State Assembly–Skinner in Berkeley and Richmond; Swanson in Oakland and Alameda. Both served six years in Sacramento and both want a chance to serve in the upper house. Another Democrat, Katherine Welch, the daughter of former General Electric chair Jack Welch, came on strong early. She has basically raised the same amount of money as the more well-known Swanson through her ties to statewide education reformers. Yet, as the campaign moved forward she often seemed out of her league and it appeared to have had a grating effect on both Skinner and, especially, Swanson, who often rolled his eyes at some of her comments at several candidate forums. The fourth candidate, Republican Rich Kinney, is the mayor of San Pablo. Two years ago, he ran unsuccessfully in the 15th Assembly District primary.
WHAT’S THE BEEF? Who is more progressive? Throughout the campaign, Skinner has touted her record for taking on special interests, such as the Amazon tax, fighting PG&E and the gun lobby. If elected, Skinner would be one of the most progressive members of the legislature. Here’s the thing. So would Swanson. In the primary, he’s been trying to convince voters that he is the most principled progressive in the race. His high-profile demotion as an assembly committee chair during the 2009 budget negotiations is his main argument for being the most left-leaning, not Skinner. In addition, Swanson says the reasons for voting against the budget package have borne out to be true–affordable housing is lacking due to the end of redevelopment and the safety net is failing the poor and seniors.
PAST RESULTS 2012 June Primary: 1. Loni Hancock (D) 94,134 (96.5%) 2. Write-In 3,413 (3.5%)
2012 General Election: 1. Loni Hancock (D) 231,484 (85.74%) 2. Mary McIlroy (PF) 38,512 (14.26%)
CAMPAIGN FINANCE (Through May 21): Skinner $921,862 cash on hand,; Swanson $56,043 cash on hand; Welch $55,811 cash on hand; Kinney $1,027 cash on hand
OUTLOOK A likely Skinner-Swanson General Election matchup in November will have the 2012 18th Assembly District race between progressives Rob Bonta and Abel Guillen as an antecedent. Like that fall campaign, there will only be a sliver of daylight between Skinner and Swanson’s platform. The difference, of course, will be how they deliver the message. Neither is particularly charismatic, although Swanson is capable of speaking with inspirational tones, at times. But this race could be a money game. Skinner got a huge head start in the campaign finance column after transferring a vast majority of her $1 million war chest from her previous assembly account. Over the past year, Swanson has simply not done very well raising money. He’s has all the big name Democratic endorsers like Rep. Barbara Lee and Bonta, but few resources of his own. The likely storyline this fall actually showed itself just a few days ago when an independent expenditure committee backed by Big Oil, Big Tobacco and various other special interest spent a quick $138,000 to support Swanson’s campaign. It’s not the type of friends an East Bay progressive would like in a perfect world, but Swanson is going to need all the help he can. If he can neutralize Skinner’s money advantage, this fall race could become a toss-up
PREDICTION 1. Skinner 2. Swanson 3. Welch 4. Kinney.