EBCampaign: East Bay June Primary Post-Mortem

152 DAYS UNTIL NOVEMBER ELECTION
Time to put the 2016 June primary to bed.

Ro Khanna finally won a political campaign. That’s was the gist of a text message I received Wednesday morning. Khanna’s victory Tuesday night was by far the best possible and least likeliest outcome for his second attempt to unseat Rep. Mike Honda. Last Monday, Khanna said privately that he was hopeful for around a 12-point spread between he and Honda on Election Night. That prediction turned out to be way off. I had the total percentage of all other candidates in the race at 23 (it was 24), but the distribution of the other three-fourths of all voters clearly broke from Honda to Khanna. Through Wednesday afternoon, Khanna leads Honda by just 177 votes.

Ro Khanna, the newly-anointed front runner
in the 17th congressional district.

Unofficially, either way, the results from the primary are devastating for Honda going forward. In the coming months, the most troubling ramifications from the result for Honda is whether his fundraising will dry up? Nobody in politics wants to be associated with a potential losing candidate and absolutely nobody wants to throw good fundraising money on them either. This problem for Honda is amplified by the fact Khanna has almost always outraised him going back to early 2013. Another issue to keep an eye on in this race is whether labor’s support for Honda begins to crack? If one big name union or a labor council pulls away from Honda, it’s over. Here are some other things to watch in CA17 over the next five months:

There has to be more than one debate and/or forums in the fall. It’s now in Honda’s best interests to show a more public face. Voters might actually tire of seeing Khanna. Who knows? Honda must also get out in front of the ethics investigation story. How exactly is not clear, but Tuesday’s results show the passive drumbeat over the past year of hearing the words “ethics investigation” attached to his name significantly eroded his support in the district. Honda is letting this “on-going investigation” dictate his campaign. Meanwhile, momentum is high for Khanna. How he handles being the front runner for the first time in his political career will be important. It’s much different being the chaser than being the one chased.

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Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley
dominated Oakland’s flatlands and Pleasanton.

A STERN MESSAGE TO COUNTY REFORMERS If Khanna was truly shocked by his likely, but still unofficial upset primary win over Honda, imagine how Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley and his opponent Bryan Parker felt a little after 8 p.m. last Tuesday night? I’ve never come across a race where both campaigns, in hindsight, were so oblivious to their own chances. Over the past few weeks, Miley was literally walking around like a beaten man. His campaign was acting like an outfit haphazardly throwing every strategy they could think of to pull out a win. Parker totally believed he was on the cusp of victory earlier in the day, yet the polls showed a very familiar result: An easy win for an Alameda County supervisorial incumbent to the tune of a 24-point shellacking.

There is a lot of head scratching going on over this beating. For one, Parker spent $140,000 to improve by just 10 points on the previous challenger’s under financed performance from four years ago? Election maps released Thursday show Miley dominated Parker in Oakland’s flatlands above San Leandro and trounced him in Pleasanton. In fact, Parker won just one precinct in Oakland, roughly in the hills and the most eastern precinct in Pleasanton. Parker fared better in the northern parts of Castro Valley, but indecisively. Going forward, however, Parker’s defeat is going to have bigger ramifications than Miley winning. The lesson learned to anyone thinking about unseating a sitting county supervisor is this: Don’t do it. Parker seemed well-equipped to pull off an upset. To start, he had the money. Is it reasonable to believe if someone like Parker can get trounced, nobody else could possibly have a chance? Meanwhile, in coming days and weeks, there will be many theories as to why Parker did so poorly. I’ll offer this one.

It never felt like a good idea for Parker to believe he could win head-to-head matchup with Miley in June. He needed two bites at the apple and that would have entailed having a third or fourth candidate in the field. Parker, however, was adamant about avoiding this situation and was pleasantly surprised last March when two other potential candidates decided not to finalize their campaign filing papers. A different composition of candidates would have had us talking today about how Parker could put together a coalition of voters to beat Miley in November. There was momentum in the last two weeks about Miley’s questionable deeds as supervisor. The Youth Uprising story last week that showed the Oakland non-profit with ties to Miley was missing $1 million, that story sounds like ACAP all over again, the county program also with ties to Miley that was dissolved after money went missing. If there was a November runoff in this race, we would have surely been talking more about Miley’s character, or, lack thereof.

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Nancy Skinner topped Sandre Swanson by
19 points in the June Primary.

SLOWLY DISAPPEARING STATE SENATE RACE Sandre Swanson is going to need the oil and tobacco-backed IE Alliance for California’s Tomorrow to spend big money on his behalf in the fall. He might even need help from another IE. It might not matter how much help Swanson gets over the next five months unless he figures out a specific reason why he’s better than his progressive facsimile, Skinner. Pick one easy-to-understand issue and pound away. And be bold. Swanson also needs to ween people off the prevailing wisdom that the heavily progressive district really can’t go wrong with either candidate. That doesn’t help Swanson since Tuesday’s result reinforces the perception that Skinner is the de-facto incumbent in this race. Following Election Night, the interesting part of this particular campaign is just how far it fallen in terms of star power and potential for being a hard-fought and interesting race. Nine months ago, it appeared the race would be a three-way battle featuring some of the most experienced people in the entire East Bay. But when Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan withdrew last October, the dynamics changed. Now, after Swanson’s poor performance, it makes you wonder if he truly showed up either?

How will Catharine Baker make the Sixteenth
Assembly District great again?

BAKER HAS TOUGH RACE AHEAD Of the seven Assembly Republicans viewed as most endangered to win re-election this year, East Bay Assemblymember Catharine Baker actually performed slightly better than the pack Tuesday night. Her 54 percent of the vote against Democrat Cheryl Cook-Kallio, however, puts this race in play in November. During the primary Baker campaigned on her ability to work with Democrats in the Legislature. The Contra Costa County and Tri Valley seat is in play because its makeup boasts a slightly higher percentage, but still woeful number of Republicans, and a large number of independents. It’s the closest thing to a purple district in the East Bay. In the fall, Baker has a Trump problem and she hasn’t yet indicated support the party’s presumptive nominee. Cook-Kallio should push her to make a decision. Surely, some IE will plaster Trump’s image on a mailer opposing Baker. And beware, the amount of special interests mailers will again be significant. In fighting back Cook-Kallio’s candidacy, Baker should describe her as the establishment’s pick. In many ways, it’s true. Assembly Democrats were turning over every rock in the district looking for someone to challenge Baker before finding Cook-Kallio, a former Pleasanton council member. Conversely, Baker’s description of being a moderate does not always jibe with reality, especially with women’s issues. That may be why finding a woman to challenge Baker is so important.

DEAR LEADERS STRUGGLE The Alameda County Democratic Party and Republican Party chairs both barely won seats on their respective central committees in the 18th Assembly District. Local Democratic chair Robin Torello won the 10th and last seat on the central committee and David Erlich, chair of the local Republican Party, won the seventh and last seat. The results does not likely mean much about their leadership. Central committee races are somewhat of a crapshoot.

MORE QUAN WOES In the Democratic Central Committee for the 15th District, which includes parts of Oakland to Richmond, one of the notable candidates to miss out on one of nine open seats was Floyd Huen, the husband of former Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. Recall, a few months back that Huen vowed revenge against the central committee for not endorsing his wife’s re-election for mayor two years ago.

UPSET AT COUNTY ED One of the biggest down ballot upsets was at the Alameda County Board of Education where board member Marlon McWilson was defeated by Amber Childress. Making a bad day worse, McWilson also lost his seat on the Democratic Central Committee.

Bernie Sanders won 46 percent voters in
progressive Alameda County.

SORT OF FELT THE BERN Alameda County felt the Bern a bit more than others in the state. Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders in the county by eight points. Meanwhile, Donald Trump won 64 percent of Republican voters in Alameda County, followed by John Kasich with 16 percent and Ted Cruz with 10 percent.

MEASURE OF SUCCESS Every consequential ballot measure in the county successfully passed Tuesday. The lone exception was Measure L, a bond measure for the little-known Lammersville Unified School District around Mountain House. The measure actually lost by one vote. In fact, just 22 votes were cast. Twelve voted in support of the measure which needed to win 55 percent of the vote for passage. It received 54.55 percent.

NEAR VERDICT FOR JUDGE Criminal attorney Barbara Thomas is headed to a November runoff for the open Alameda County Superior Court judicial seat against county prosecutor Scott Jackson. Thomas, an Alameda attorney, won 48 percent of the vote–two points short of avoiding the runoff. Her 19-point advantage over Jackson may not be as formidable as it looks. Thomas is somewhat of a controversial figure in Alameda politics. Last year, for instance, she raised eye brows by publicly threatening the Alameda City Council with a lawsuit if it passed an ordinance limiting rent increases. The very public declaration potentially violates the state bar’s code of conduct for judicial candidates who are not permitted to take political stands. Meanwhile, some local progressives believe the county bench desperately needs more diversity and Jackson, who is black, would fit the bill. In fact, the local party was quite split over whether to endorse Jackson or David Lim, who finished third on Tuesday with 23 percent. Look for a strong and unified push by Democrats this November in favor of Jackson.

Assemblymember Tony Thurmond received the 
highest percentage of votes in Alameda County.

BEST BEAT DOWN AWARD GOES TO… During most state and federal elections in Oakland, Rep. Barbara Lee usually receives the highest percentage of votes in any race in Alameda County. Not during this primary, though. Richmond 15th District Tony Thurmond took the prize Tuesday with 91.8 percent of the vote against Republican Cal student Claire Chiara. Lee was just behind with 91.1 percent over Republican Sue Caro. However, when votes from the Contra Costa County portion of Thurmond’s district are included, his percentage drops just below Lee at 90.3 percent.

LOOKING FORWARD TO NOVEMBER Races in the 14th Assembly District between Democrats Mae Torlakson and Tim Grayson , along with Baker’s 16th Assembly District will receive statewide attention. The Honda-Khanna rematch will receive national attention and the 9th State Senate District race between Skinner and Swanson looks moribund right now, but could perk up by November.

Oakland Councilmembers Dan Kalb, Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Noel Gallo are all up for re-election, as is at-large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan. All four are likely winners, but the Kaplan race will take center-stage if Jean Quan decides to run. It’s not all that clear that she will, however.

Berkeley has four council seats up for grabs and a mayoral race to replace the retiring Tom Bates. Aside from Berkeley’s fascinating cast of characters, the Jesse Arreguin-Laurie Capitelli campaigns for mayor will be, well, captivating.

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