AD15 PREVIEW: Will Buffy Wicks win the primary, but lose the election?

15th Assembly District primary candidates: Jovanka Beckles, Dan Kalb, Buffy Wicks, Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto, and Judy Appel. Seven other candidates are also vying for two spots in the November General Election.

–MEET THE CANDIDATES– Hold on to your hat! There’s a bunch of them! Furthermore, there was seven who, at one point, had a legitimate chance of winning one of the two spots in the November General Election. Time, however, has whittled the field of aspiring candidates to about five. BUFFY WICKS‘ campaign mirrors the 2014 congressional campaign of the East Bay’s Ro Khanna. Both busted onto the scene with shockingly potent finance numbers, both lack experience in elected office, and both touted presidential campaign-style ground games. It’s not a surprise since Wicks, who worked for both President Obama and Hillary Clinton, has a campaign stocked with many of the soldiers that led Khanna to….a defeat in 2014. Opponents quickly labeled Wicks a carpetbagger and then mounted a huge whisper campaign calling her a supporter of charter schools. Berkeley school board member JUDY APPEL, understandably, is backed by the powerful teachers unions. El Cerrito Councilmember ROCHELLE PARDUE-OKIMOTO, conversely is backed by the powerful California Nurses Association, which has poured significant money into not just a raft of mailers, but also billboards in AD15. Richmond Councilmember JOVANKA BECKLES over the past few weeks has become the dark horse favorite to potentially sneak into the top two on Tuesday. Her campaign is not particularly well-funded, and some insiders were critical of the decision to blow a large portion of her money earlier in the year, and without much to show for it. But Beckles is the Bernie Sanders candidate and that comes with a passionate network of volunteers. Oakland Councilmember DAN KALB, a noted environmentalist and policy wonk, is still hanging around within striking distance. Oakland is the second-largest portion of AD15 and Kalb is the only candidate from Oakland. The rest of the notables in AD15: Berkeley Councilmember BEN BARTLETT and East Bay MUD Director ANDY KATZ.

–WHAT’S THE BEEF?– There hasn’t been much disagreement in this primary race. Recent history has shown East Bay Legislative primaries are expensive and filled to the brim with candidates proposing similar progressive platforms. This one hasn’t been any different. Add to the fact, most consultants would advise against their candidates picking fights with others in the field, especially when there might be up to 10 candidates on June 6 who have valuable endorsements to offer the top two. However, some of the candidates, particularly Wicks and Appel, have become proxies for supporters of charters schools and public schools. Wicks says she is not a charter school proponent and Appel is strongly backed by teachers’ unions. Nevertheless, charter school advocates have poured more than $435,000 into an Independent Expenditure Committee supporting Wicks. These groups are not tied to individual campaigns, by law, but the big money might make pro-public school supporters very skeptical of Wicks’ protestations.

AD15 housing forum
Oakland Councilmember Dan Kalb and an early field of AD15 primary candidates at a housing forum last January in Oakland.

–OUTLOOK– The sheer number of total candidates in this race (12), and the number of highly credible campaigns (7), means only one thing: the margin between second place and going home for four candidates might be a percentage point! There is almost universally certainty that Wicks takes first. She has too much money and her ground game is sophisticated and straight out of a congressional campaign. But she might have a huge problem in November. First off, her own campaign finance advantage is going to be blunted by millions in special interest IEs. But worse, Wicks’ links to charter schools supporters is becoming harder to deny. One charter school group spent a half million dollars to support her. They must be seeing something they like, right? Wicks is going to have a problem against two potential November opponents. If it’s Appel–a likelihood that would have been more certain if Berkeley Councilmember Ben Bartlett wasn’t in the race and potentially taking away precious votes in a city that has the most AD15 votes–then Wicks is going to have a public school vs. charter schools narrative to deal with. If it’s Beckles, Wicks will need to deal with a Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders narrative. Neither is particularly appealing for Wicks. She might be able to massage the Clinton/Sanders debate, but taking on the state’s teachers unions is bad news.

–PREDICTION– 1) Wicks. 2) Beckles.

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