In hindsight, the fact four-term Hayward Assemblymember Bill Quirk had attracted an early handful of potential primary challengers last fall may have been a subtle hint that a level of disenchantment exists among progressives in the 20th Assembly District. Just three challengers finalized their candidacies for the March primary, including the perfunctory Republican sure to gobble up the district’s one-quarter chunk of the electorate.

2020 march primary logo drop shadowBut the Republican in the race, a local businessman named Son Nguyen, is showing signs of underperforming. An influx of early Republican ballots placed Nguyen in a strong position to finish a distance second to Quirk, and with it, a spot in the November top two primary. But a late rush of Democratic ballots with a distinct progressive bent is fueling a surge by Democrat Alexis Villalobos.

The union organizer and Bernie Sanders acolyte is just 217 195 votes behind Nguyen for second place after election results were updated Thursday evening by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters. The number of ballots to be counted countywide is dwindling. It is unknown how many remain in the 20th Assembly District, although it is likely small.

Alexis Villalobos

But Villalobos’ late run, if it succeeds, would put Quirk in the position to defend his seat against a young Democratic challenger from his left flank.

East Bay politicos had already taken notice of Quirk’s inability to crack a simple majority of the vote last week.  At one point, Quirk’s numbers had dipped to around 46 percent before rebounding. But nearly every insider acknowledged that Quirk would remain a prohibitive favorite in the fall against either Nguyen or Villalobos, but Tuesday’s outcome may also be a signal that a more robust progressive challenge could be on Quirk’s horizon in two years. Quirk is termed out of the Legislature in 2024.

Villalobos’ surprising performance gives further evidence that Hayward’s electorate is in the midst of a generational shift further to the left following the election in 2018 of Hayward Councilmember Aisha Wahab. Her victory two years ago upended decades-long orthodoxy that Hayward voters favored business-friendly moderate Democrats. Wahab’s platform advocating for renters rights and affordable housing likely cast her as the most progressive councilmember elected in Hayward in decades.

Her grassroots appeal to Hayward voters since her election has not abated, but grown. Wahab’s council colleagues have shown varying levels of stubbornness in following her lead on issues such as rent control and police accountability, but have mostly gotten on board.

When Hayward Councilmember Al Mendall announced last week that he would not seek re-election to the council after eight years because of family concerns, some in Hayward read the move as an acknowledgment of the city’s progressive paradigm shift. Villalobos’ surprising showing in the March primary, whether it materializes into a place on the November ballot or not, may be another anecdotal piece of evidence of Hayward’s rapid turn to the left.

>>Assembly – District 20
Quirk……………….  39,744  48.20%
Nguyen…………….  17,226  20.90%
Villalobos…………  17,071  20.70% -195
Bajwa……………….    8,478  10.30%

*As of Thursday