ALCO DA PREVIEW: Upset in the making or the machine grows forever unbeatable?

–MEET THE CANDIDATES– Alameda County District Attorney NANCY O’MALLEY has never faced an opponent in her two previous elections. She came up through the ranks and was appointed to the position by the Board of Supervisors after the retirement of former DA Tom Orloff. In the nine years since, O’Malley has won local and national praise for his office’s push to eradicate human trafficking in Alameda County. The cannabis lobby also adores O’Malley for her pro-pot stance when it comes to prosecutions. Yet, among non-progressives as a whole, O’Malley’s strong reluctance to charge local police and local elected officials for misconduct is a glaring sin. Opponents say it’s notable that she’s never prosecuted a cop outside the BART officer who killed Oscar Grant. Of course, the main opponent saying these things is Oakland civil rights attorney PAMELA PRICE. Before her upstart campaign for DA, Price previously ran for the Assembly in the 15th District. When Price announced her candidacy last year, East Bay insiders rejoiced after years of describing the perfect foil for O’Malley as being a progressive, African-American, and, hopefully, female challenger. Price believes mass incarceration by law enforcement is harming African American and Latino residents and has vowed not to prosecute some lower-level misdemeanors as a result. Price says she will not shy away from prosecuting police officers who commit crimes.

–WHAT’S THE BEEF– Where to start? This campaign is turning into classic. As the overwhelming favorite throughout the race, O’Malley has chosen to mostly stick to trumpeting her own record, like any strong incumbent would. Price has not. With sometimes blistering attacks against O’Malley, Price has for month made a clear distinction between herself and her opponent. But even as progressives flocked to Price’s campaign, it did not really light fire until March when Price began telling audiences that O’Malley accepted $10,000 from the Fremont police union while she was investigating two of their officers involved in the killing of a 16-year-old pregnant girl in Hayward. O’Malley received widespread condemnation for, at minimum, the optics of the contributions even from her most stalwart supporters. O’Malley says the contributions or any others from law enforcement does not cloud her judgment as DA. But only last week, O’Malley fought back by highlighting Price’s stance against prosecuting drunk-driving and some domestic violence charges. The comment opened Price up to a warning already proffered previously by O’Malley supporters that Price will be soft on crime.

ALCO Dems OMalley Price
Pamela Price, center, along with Nancy O’Malley, right, at the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee endorsement meeting in April, one of the most hard-fought public debates of the entire East Bay primary season.

–RESULTS– 2014 Election– O’Malley 142,240 (98.16%), Write-in 2,449 (1.77%).

–MONEYBALL– O’Malley: $278,399 cash on hand through the April 21-May 19 final finance reporting period, raised $92,387 during the period, spent $426,128. For the year, O’Malley raised $260,645 and spent $613,227. Price: (Latest report not yet posted) $128,931 cash on hand through April 21, raised $169,547, spent $135,277. For the year, Price raised $181,947; spent $139,166.

–OUTLOOK– The view from 30,000 feet in the air is that it represents a tipping point for whether the mighty Alameda County establishment machine can be toppled or whether it will solidify its power for another generation. Bryan Parker attempted to break through two years ago against Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley. His campaign appeared promising until the end, but failed miserably on Election Day. But Miley, like O’Malley this time around, look spooked by the ferocity of their opponent’s campaign. If Price is somehow able to defeat O’Malley in the winner-takes-all June election, it would amount to sea-change in county government unfathomable to take in at this moment. For one, can you imagine Price working with Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern? The shaky foundation of the county’s hold on institutional local power would be revealed and others will be embolden to take on the super entrenched Board of Supervisors. But if O’Malley wins anymore than 60 percent of the vote, the door on any possible reforms at the county level will slam shut. Almost nobody is predicting an O’Malley defeat on June 5. Furthermore, up until the last 10 days  there was actually way more thinking a rout is in order, despite perceptions that Price is running a great campaign down the stretch. But absent any polling, all we can do to judge where this is going with five days to go is to read the tea leaves. And here they are: We know the Independent Expenditure Committee set up by San Jose and Los Angeles police unions in support of O’Malley did polling. Based on the vicious mailers the IE then sent out, the numbers must of worried the IE’s consultants. O’Malley’s campaign has mostly stayed positive for months. But the IE goes into full-frontal attack mode in the last 10 days? It all strongly suggests this race has tightened up. If it indeed is closer than expected, can we assume the outcome will come down to voter turnout? There’s been much talk about whether Price’s lack of presence in the Tri-Valley and Tri-Cities will hurt her. Price voters in heavily populated Oakland and Berkeley are energized and will likely vote. Maybe the soccer moms in Pleasanton and Fremont don’t even bother voting? But O’Malley’s inherent advantages–a huge fundraising advantage, support of the establishment, and a relatively lack of scandal involving her office–make an upset unlikely. The best that reformers of county government might hope for is a closer-than-expected outcome in favor of O’Malley, something in the range of O’Malley, 55-45 percent, would get the establishment’s attention. One knowledgeable source called it 52-48 for O’Malley. If a result like that is rendered Tuesday night you can bet people are going to start seriously thinking about challenging some of these entrenched county supervisors in two years.

–PREDICTION– 1) O’Malley. 2) Price.

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