Open primary yields few surprises as voters approve term limits reform
Backers of California’s voter-approved open primary system, in which candidates of all parties appear together on one primary ballot with the top two continuing to the general election, argued that the measure would shake up state politics by giving more moderate politicians a chance for a general election matchup.
But while Tuesday’s open primary boded ill for at least one longtime incumbent who would likely have been safe under the old system, fewer same-party or otherwise unconventional general election matchups emerged than expected.
Stark in trouble, but other races yield traditional Democrat-Republican matchups
Open-primary supporters will likely point to the predicament of 80-year-old Rep. Pete Stark (D-Fremont), who has served in the House continuously since 1973, as a sign of the change which open primaries can bring.
Stark, who would probably have cruised to victory in a party primary and gone on to defeat any Republican challenger in the ensuing general election, instead faces the fight of his political life after drawing just 42 percent of the vote in the newly drawn 15th Congressional District, which now covers the Tri-Valley area — not part of Stark’s current district — as well as southern Alameda County.
Dublin City Councilmember Eric Swalwell, a Democrat who has criticized Stark for his sometimes-erratic behavior and says Stark is an ineffective legislator, drew 36 percent of the vote. Swalwell, who received the endorsements of all of the region’s major newspapers, should prove to be much tougher competition for Stark than any of the candidates the GOP has fielded against him in recent elections.
Elsewhere, though, tradition prevailed. Elizabeth Emken, an advocate for autistic children and political newcomer who received the state GOP’s endorsement, will face Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein in November. With 23 relatively unknown candidates running against a highly popular and long-serving incumbent (Feinstein was drawing 49.5% of the vote as of early Wednesday morning), many observers had predicted that a fringe candidate — whether on the left or the right — might sneak through to the general election.
Instead, Emken, the choice of the party establishment, won 12.5% of the vote, drawing close to twice the number of votes of the third-place candidate, Republican Dan Hughes.
And in the vast 2nd Congressional District, which covers Marin County and the entire north coast up to the Oregon border, Democrat Jared Huffman, a San Rafael assemblymember who was the prohibitive frontrunner (drawing 37.4% of the vote as of early Wednesday morning), should face Republican Dan Roberts in November. Political observers expected that a Democrat might take second place in the primary in this solidly Democratic district, but Roberts, who drew 15.4% of the vote, managed to hold off a pack of chasing Democrats to set up a traditional Democrat-Republican matchup in November.
Other legislative primary results of note around the Bay Area:
- Senate District 13: Democratic Assemblymember Jerry Hill took 51 percent of the vote to establish himself as the clear frontrunner for this open seat, which covers most of the Peninsula. Former Assemblymember Sally Lieber, also a Democrat, drew 22 percent and will face Hill in November.
- Assembly District 18: Alameda City Councilmember Rob Bonta drew 37 percent of the vote to emerge on top in this race to represent Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro, but will face serious competition from fellow Democrat Abel Guillen, who drew 28 percent in a four-way race.
- Assembly District 19: San Francisco Assessor Phil Ting received 56 percent of the vote in this district covering western San Francisco and Daly city, establishing himself as the clear favorite in November. Michael Breyer, also a Democrat, received 22 percent of the vote and will challenge Ting in the general election.
- Assembly District 20: Hayward City Councilmember and retired Lawrence Livermore scientist Bill Quirk emerged on top of the field in this district, which spans Hayward and Union City. Quirk, a Democrat who drew 30 percent of the vote in a five-way race, will face optometrist Jennifer Ong, who drew 25 percent of the vote.