The California Republican Party really, really, hates the new state Senate lines.
When California's new Independent Redistricting Committee unveiled the final Assembly lines, neither party objected. When it revealed the new Congressional lines, former GOP Congressman George Radanovich unsuccessfully sued to stop their implementation, and the state party made a halfhearted attempt to overturn them via a ballot measure, but it never went anywhere. The Senate lines are another story.
California Republicans fear that the new Senate lines would give Democrats a two-thirds majority in that chamber; this is a huge deal, as it would allow Democrats to raise taxes and bypass various procedures. The GOP unsuccessfully went to the state Supreme Court to try to stop them, while simultaneously placing a referendum on the November ballot to overturn the Senate lines. However, the lines developed by the Independent Redistricting Committee will be used in the November election, and it is not clear if the GOP will be able to fund their campaign to overturn the Senate lines. The Democrats have a rare chance to get to two-thirds, and Republican leaders fear that once the Democrats have a super majority they may never lose it. Both state parties have made the state Senate races a major priority in 2012. Republicans will constantly hammer home the idea that Democrats will raise taxes without any obstacles, while Democratic candidates are likely to emphasize budget cuts in order to play down the tax issue.
In order to get two-thirds in the Senate, Democrats must have 27 of the 40 seats. Senate terms last four years and only odd numbered seats will be up in 2012, with even numbered ones up in 2014. Of the seats that won't be up, Democrats hold 14 to the Republicans 6. In order to hit two-thirds, the Democrats must win 13 of the 20 seats on the ballot in 2012. Three state Senators whose seats will be up in 2014 are currently running for Congress: however, Republican Doug LaMalfa and Democrats Gloria Negrete McLeod and Juan Vargas all occupy seats that their parties should have no problem holding.
In addition to the drama of whether the Democrats will win two-thirds, the 2012 Senate elections provide the first statewide test of California's new top-two primary. Under the top-two, all candidates run on the same ballot in the June 5 primary (though early voting has been happening for weeks) with the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advancing to the general election. There will be a number of competitive races in November where both candidates belong to the same party: the winner will often be whoever appeals to not just independents but to the other party the best.
What follows is a guide to the 20 state Senate seats that will be up in 2012. All races are rated on a five ★ scale to determine how competitive they are. Since some of the more interesting races will be Democrats vs. Democrats in the general election, (there are no competitive GOP vs. GOP races in the Senate, though the Assembly and Congress offer a few) I find this rating a much more informative way of describing these races than by saying which party is favored in November. (Though I do say that too).
A ★ race is the most boring race there is. The winner is all but predetermined and short of a massive scandal or horrific gaffe, there is no need to take a second look at this race. Except for a few of these one ★ races, I mostly skip over any description of these elections; this is mostly because there are only so many interesting ways of saying "Senator X will be reelected."
A ★★ race has the potential to be competitive, but has one candidate who is heavily favored.
A ★★★ race is competitive, with at least two candidates looking like they have a reasonable chance to win, but one candidate is still the clear favorite.
A ★★★★ features a very competitive race. There is a slight favorite, but s/he faces at least one strong opponent who has the potential to pull off an upset.
A ★★★★★ race is reserved for the most competitive races in the state. These are the elections where millions will be spent from both inside and outside the district, blood and tears will be spilled, and careers will be made or destroyed.
I don't have any mathematical or scientific formula for rating these races: they're based on my opinion of how competitive the race is. However, with all the pre-primary fundraising reports in, I do heavily factor in fundraising and spending, as well as third party spending. (Electiontrack.com has a running total of third party spending by race here, which I rely on heavily).
Also, all senate maps and numbers are from Meridian Pacific.
Now let's go to the races!
California's 1st Senate District: Ted Gaines (R), Redding, Rocklin.
President: Obama 42%, McCain 54%
Governor: Brown 37%, Whitman 55%
Senate: Boxer 32%, Fiorina 59%
California's 3rd Senate District: Lois Wolk (D), Napa, Fairfield, Vallejo.
President: Obama 66%, McCain 31%
Governor: Brown 60%, Whitman 34%
Senate: Boxer 57%, Fiorina 35%
California's 5th Senate District: OPEN, Lodi, Tracy, Manteca.
President: Obama 53%, McCain 44%
Governor: Brown 46%, Whitman 46%
Senate: Boxer 42%, Fiorina 48%
Both parties have their eyes on this swing seat, with one well known Democrat waiting to take on the Republican who emerges from the primary. Assemblymember Bill Berryhill, the brother of a state Senator and the son of a prominent former legislature, is locked in a competitive race with fellow Republican and San Joaquin county supervisor Leroy Ornellas. Both Berryhill and Ornellas have similar stances on the issues, though Berryhill has somewhat of a reputation as a moderate. Ornellas is running against Berryhill from the right, signing a no-tax and attacking Berryhill for refusing to do the same, and criticizing the Assemblyman for voting to tax online giants like Amazon. Ornellas has also emphasized that Berryhill needed to move into the district to run and talking up the fact that he hasn't served in Sacramento. Both have big warchests and have spent heavily, but Berryhill outspent Ornellas $322,000 to $194,000 in recent months and still has more money left over (with a PAC called "Defending the Republic" dumping an additional $42,000 against Ornellas). Ornellas has the support of local electeds and the San Joaquin County Republican party; Berryhill has at his side a number of business groups, legislators, and local electeds. Ornellas is too well known in most of the district to count out, but Berryhill's higher profile and financial dominance makes him the favorite to advance to November.
Waiting in the general is Democratic Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani. Galgiani, helped by not facing any Democratic opposition, has the largest warchest of them all, with $241,000 on hand to Berryhill's $177,000 and Ornellas' $138,000 as of mid-May. High speed rail is very likely to be an issue in the general election; Galgiani authored a major high speed rail bill, while both Republicans oppose it. Republicans will work hard to portray Galgiani as a conventional liberal, with her aiming to emphasize her moderate credentials. Given that neither party has a big advantage in this district, this race should be close all the way until November.
More races below the fold...
California's 7th Senate District: Mark DeSaulnier (D), Concord, Antioch, Livermore.
President: Obama 62%, McCain 35%
Governor: Brown 53%, Whitman 41%
Senate: Boxer 52%, Fiorina 41%
California's 9th Senate District: Loni Hancock (D), Richmond, Berkeley, Oakland.
President: Obama 86%, McCain 11%
Governor: Brown 83%, Whitman 12%
Senate: Boxer 83%, Fiorina 12%
California's 11th Senate District: Mark Leno (D), San Francisco, Daly City.
President: Obama 82%, McCain 14%
Governor: Brown 77%, Whitman 17%
Senate: Boxer 75%, Fiorina 15%
California's 13th Senate District: OPEN, South San Francisco, Redwood City, Sunnyvale.
President: Obama 77%, McCain 24%
Governor: Brown 64%, Whitman 31%
Senate: Boxer 65%, Fiorina 29%
Assemblymember Jerry Hill will face former Assemblymember Sally Lieber in this heavily Democratic district in a contest on the San Francisco Peninsula that will last all the way until November. Both candidates are liberals but Hill is known for having a far better relationship with local businesses than Lieber, and has a reputation for being easier to work with than the more combative Lieber. Hill has emphasized his support for green technologies, consumer protection, and utility regulation: the latter issue is particularly important in this district after a 2010 PG&E pipeline explosion. Lieber has called for increasing social services and protecting the disenfranchised such as prisoners and the homeless, as well as expanding the role of women in politics.
Lieber is known as a formidable campaigner who has beaten the odds more than once, and she cannot be counted out. However, Hill is the clear favorite going in. Hill is well known in the San Mateo County parts of the district where 66% of registered voters live; Lieber by contrast is known only in the smaller Santa Clara County portions she used to represent, such as Mountain View. Hill has a larger warchest than Lieber (with $270,000 to $213,000 cash on hand) even after outspending her $232,000 to $11,000 in the last few months. Medical groups have also shelled out $84,000 for Hill so far, with no independent spending for Lieber yet. Hill was widely praised for his response to the 2010 pipeline explosion, and he has swept the endorsements of the local papers. Hill is also more likely to appeal to Republicans in the general election due to his more conciliatory reputation and good relations with businesses than Lieber. Hill also has the endorsements of many local electeds, legislators, local Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, unions, and the California Nurses Association. On Lieber's side are the California Teachers Association, EMILY's LIST, several local Democratic clubs, and the California National Association of Women. There are other candidates, but none are likely to advance beyond the primary. Lieber is someone who should never be counted out and she is strong enough to pull off an upset, but for now Hill is the clear favorite.
California's 15th Senate District: OPEN, San Jose, Cupertino, Campbell, Los Gatos.
President: Obama 67%, McCain 29%
Governor: Brown 59%, Whitman 35%
Senate: Boxer 60%, Fiorina 32%
Assemblymember Jim Beall faces former Assemblymember Joe Coto in this race to represent this Santa Clara County district (where I live in fact). Both candidates are Democrats, but they place their focuses in different areas. Beall has talked up public transportation and public health and his focus on helping foster children and taking on the liquor industry. Coto, a former teacher, has made education his priority. Beall is a close ally of unions, while Coto is supported by the insurance industry. Coto is the more conservative candidate, with him emphasizing his ability to work with Republicans and his support for pension reform in San Jose, which unions vehemently oppose. Both have local electeds and local legislators on their side but Beall has law enforcement groups, termed-out incumbent Elaine Alquist, and popular county sheriff Laurie Smith.
Beall starts out the race better known than Coto, having represented much more of the district in the Assembly and on the San Jose city council and county Board of Supervisors. However, Coto is a formidable fundraiser, outspending Beall in recent months by $60,000 and maintaining a $185,000 to $109,000 cash on hand lead. So far, insurance industry groups and other business organizations have spent $300,000 on Coto, with no third party help for Beall yet. Beall recently filed a complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, accusing the Coto campaign of illegally coordinating with one of these groups.
Beall and Coto are the only names on the ballot so they will continue to November and work to appeal to the districts independents and Republicans. Coto should win over the Republican vote due to his more conservative platform, though both candidates are calling for shrinking the government somewhat. It's hard to say who has the advantage; Beall is far better known in the district, but Coto has the resources to introduce himself to voters and is conservative enough to appeal to Republicans and independents but liberal enough to not lose Democrats. This race for now looks like it will be competitive to the end.
(And to add a quick disclaimer: I used to intern for a group that endorsed Coto, though my internship ended long before the endorsement was made.)
California's 17th Senate District: OPEN, Gilroy, Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Luis Obispo.
President: Obama 64%, McCain 33%
Governor: Brown 56%, Whitman 38%
Senate: Boxer 54%, Fiorina 38%
Democratic Assemblymember Bill Monning faces little opposition in his bid for this seat.
California's 19th Senate District: OPEN, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Oxnard.
President: Obama 60%, McCain 37%
Governor: Brown 49%, Whitman 43%
Senate: Boxer 49%, Fiorina 43%
Two Democrats are fighting an increasingly divisive campaign, with a high-profile Republican waiting to take on the winner. Local Democrats still haven't fully recovered from their 2010 Assembly primary, where now Assemblymember Das Williams defeated environmental activist Susan Jordan, and this race between former Assemblywoman and 2008 state Senate nominee Hannah-Beth Jackson and Oxnard Harbor Commissioner and firefighter Jason Hodge exposes many of the same fault-lines. Jackson is backed by her protégé Williams, with Jordan and her husband former Assemblymember Pedro Nava for Hodge. Most officials in Ventura County who have endorsed are for Jackson, though Hodge has the support of popular former county District Attorney and Republican Mike Bradbury. The Ventura and Santa Barbara County Democratic parties have sided with Jackson, as has the state Democratic Party. Hodge, the husband of Assembly Speaker pro tempore Fiona Ma of San Francisco, has many legislators on his side including Speaker John Perez. Labor is split; Hodge has firefighters and construction trade unions on his side, and the California Federation of Labor in his corner, while Jackson is allied with teachers' and nurses' groups and the SEIU.
The campaign has been heated from the start and shows no signs of calming down. Recently, Jackson fired a vendor after her campaign used the caller ID of the National Weather Service to make political calls. Given that the number is traditionally used in disasters, Hodge and his allies quickly pounced on this. Hodge is working to portray himself as a political outsider (though this is a strange talking point considering he's married to one of the most powerful Assemblymembers), and as a conservative alternate to Jackson. Hodge is relatively unknown in the Santa Barbara part of the district, and is hoping that former Assemblymember Nava can help him there. Hodge is also arguing that he is more electable, pointing to a January internal poll that shows Jackson losing to Republican former Santa Barbara County supervisor by five points, while Hodges trails by only one. Jackson is stressing her experience and her support for green jobs and education as well as her progressive record. Class has become a factor in the race, with Jackson appealing more to the wealthier parts of the district and Hodge to the more blue-collar areas
Political observers expect Jackson to beat Hodge for a spot in the general election. This looks like a good bet: Jackson has more name recognition and establishment support, and her more liberal views are likely to get her more votes in the primary than Hodge's conservative ones, especially since most conservatives will support the Republican on the ballot. Jackson's campaign has also outspent Hodge's in the last month and a half $306,000 to $214,000. However Hodge's allies aren't going down without a fight. The California Professional Firefighters and the conservative leaning Senior Advocates League have spent about $216,000 in support of him or in opposition to Jackson; still, the $147,000 spent on Jackson by "California Alliance, A Coalition Of Consumer Attorneys And Conservationists" helps her maintain her monetary advantage. Hodge is too strong to count out, but Jackson looks like the clear favorite.
Waiting in the general election is Stoker, the former Santa Barbara County supervisor. Stoker ran for the Assembly against Das Williams in 2010, losing 55%-45%. Stoker's name recognition should give him a chance in this Democratic leaning district, but so far his fundraiser has been incredibly lack luster. Stoker has barely spent any money in this race but he only has $3,900 on hand, though he has $47,000 in his Assembly account available. This poor fundraising is particularly odd since Stoker raised $383,000 in his Assembly campaign, proving he knows how to raise some dough at the very least. Republicans and their allies will likely spend some money here regardless, but with other seats looking more winnable Stoker may need to prove he can be competitive first. If Stoker can get his act together he has the potential to make this close, especially if the losing Democrat's supporters are slow to embrace the winner. Still, Democrats should be favored in the general election.
California's 21st Senate District: OPEN, Santa Clarita, Victorville, Hesperia.
President: Obama 47%, McCain 50%
Governor: Brown 39%, Whitman 51%
Senate: Boxer 36%, Fiorina 54%
Republican Assemblymember Steve Knight should have no problem beating an underfunded Democrat to take this district.
California's 23rd Senate District: Bill Emmerson (R), San Bernardino, Redlands, Hemet, Menifee.
President: Obama 46%, McCain 51%
Governor: Brown 40%, Whitman 50%
Senate: Boxer 36%, Fiorina 54%
California's 25th Senate District: Carol Liu (D), Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena.
President: Obama 60%, McCain 36%
Governor: Brown 52%, Whitman 40%
Senate: Boxer: 51%, Fiorina 41%
California's 27th Senate District: Fran Pavley (D), Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Moorpark.
President: Obama 57%, McCain 40%
Governor: Brown 47%, Whitman 47%
Senate: Boxer 46%, Fiorina 47%
Democratic incumbent Fran Pavley faces Republican veteran and Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Todd Zin in this swingy district. This is expected to be a contest that both parties will focus on and the fact that Pavley was redistricted from a safe Democratic district could make her vulnerable. However, so far Zink have the money he'll need to win a tough race: Since he entered the race shortly before the filing deadline in March he has spent $40,000 to Pavley's $73,000, with the incumbent maintaining a massive $775,000 to $40,000 cash on hand lead. Independent groups have dipped their toes into this race, with "Independent Voter PAC" spending about $29,000 to aid Zink and the California Tribal Business Alliance dumping $23,000 to Pavley.
Given how close this seat was in the 2010 elections, it looks like a good bet that both parties will pour more money into this race. If Zink can raise a lot more money and GOP leaning groups spend enough money to ease Pavley's financial edge, this could get closer. For now Pavley probably has the advantage do to her financial dominance and greater name recognition as well as the district’s six point Democratic advantage. Pavley and Zink are the only names on the ballot and will meet again in November. This race will be worth keeping an eye on June 5 for clues to how vulnerable Pavley is.
California's 29th Senate District: Bob Huff (R), Fullerton, Yorba Linda, Chino Hills.
President: Obama 48%, McCain 48%
Governor: Brown 39%, Whitman 53%
Senate: Boxer 38%, Fiorina 53%
California's 31st Senate District: OPEN, Corona, Riverside, Moreno Valley.
President: Obama 56%, McCain 41%
Governor: Brown 48%, Whitman 43%
Senate: Boxer 45%, Fiorina 46%
Two Democrats are fighting an increasingly expensive battle to take on Republican Assemblymember Jeff Miller in a race critical to Republicans' hopes of preventing a two-thirds Democratic majority. Former Assemblymember Steve Clute represented a very different district from 1982-1992; since leaving office, he has lost several Congressional and Assembly races including an expensive 2006 Assembly race. The 2006 contest seems to have been the last straw for the Democratic establishment, who have decided Clute is too weak to win and have turned to retired Air Force General and attorney Richard Roth to carry the party's banner in this election. However, despite Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's best efforts, Clute won the state party's endorsement after delegates were angered over Roth's past donations to GOP candidates.
A very costly race for the Democratic spot in the general election has erupted, with some unions backing Clute but much of his support coming from Republicans who would rather face him in November than Roth. All together, Roth and his allies have spent $544,000, while Clute and his supporters (Republican and otherwise), have poured in $287,000. Most of the Democratic establishment is backing Roth, with his supporters including Senator Dianne Feinstein, many legislators, Riverside mayor Ron Loveridge, a number of unions and public safety groups, as well as the local paper The Press-Enterprise. Roth probably is the favorite to advance to November; between his powerful supporters, financial edge, and seemingly better-run campaign (Clute's campaign has raised barely a handful of Roth's total, and he has a pretty terrible website) Roth should be able to pull off a win. However, if the attacks by the anti-Roth side that Roth is not a real Democrat stick, there could be trouble for him.
Even if Democrats get their preferred candidate they are in for a tough race against Republican Jeff Miller. Miller leads Roth $229,000 to $97,000 in cash on hand (Clute has $25,000) and will enjoy name recognition as a two-term Assemblymember. Democrats will also start out at an organizational disadvantage: the party lacks the strong donor and volunteer base in Riverside County that the Republicans have. However, both parties know that this seat could be critical to their hopes of gaining or preventing a two-thirds majority and will continue to pour a great deal of time and money into this district. This race will be worth watching all the way until election day, especially if Roth is the Democratic candidate.
California's 33rd Senate District: Richardo Lara (D), South Gate, Lynwood, Long Beach.
President: Obama 75%, McCain 21%
Governor: Brown 75%, Whitman 21%
Senate: Boxer 71%, Fiorina 20%
California's 35th Senate District: Rod Wright (D), Inglewood, Compton, Carson, Torrance.
President: Obama 77%, McCain 20%
Governor: Brown 75%, Whitman 20%
Senate: Boxer 71%, Fiorina 20%
Despite his history of ethics problems, Democratic incumbent Rod Wright looks very likely to survive an underfunded inter-party challenge. In 2010 the Senate approved a $120,000 settlement for a harassment claim against Wright, and he was indicted that year on charges of false voter registration. To date, there are pending charges of perjury, voter fraud, and filing a false deceleration of candidacy.
Two challengers are running here: an underfunded Republican and Democratic middle school health teacher Paul Butterfield. Given how Democratic this district is Butterfield should make it to November, but he faces a very uphill climb in the general election despite the incumbent’s problems. Butterfield has been somewhat competitive in campaign spending, trailing Wright $49,000 to $30,000. However, Butterfield has only $2,100 left versus Wright's $87,000. Business interests have invested heavily in Wright, with a total of $453,000 being spent on his behalf so far. Butterfield has a few things going for him: he does have the endorsement of Los Angeles city councilor Joe Buscaino and a few Democratic clubs, and the LA County Federation of Labor refused to endorse anyone in the contest, seen as a snub to Wright. However, unless Butterfield can raise much more cash or find some well-funded allies, he looks unlikely to be able to take advantage of Wright's legal woes.
California's 37th Senate District: Mimi Walters (R), Irvine, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach.
President: Obama 47%, McCain 49%
Governor: Brown 35%, Whitman 60%
Senate: Boxer 34%, Fiorina 58%
California's 39th Senate District: OPEN, San Diego.
President: Obama 60%, McCain 37%
Governor: Brown 49%, Whitman 44%
Senate: Boxer 49, Fiorina 43%
Democratic Assemblymember Marty Block is likely to prevail in this district, but Republicans have landed a credible candidate in former Assemblymember George Plescia. Plescia has a reputation as a moderate and was even ousted as the GOP's Assembly leader in 2006 for being too willing to work with then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Block is working to shatter Plescia's centrist image, attacking him over his opposition to abortion rights. Block has a big financial edge over Plescia, outspending him $105,000 to $16,000 and leading in cash on hand by $172,000 to $91,000. However, conservative independent groups are spending heavily here, dumping $113,000 so far. Only one other underfunded Democrat is running, so Block and Plescia will face off in the general.
The district includes both the wealthy, conservative leaning areas of San Diego County, and the liberal areas that include the city's major universities. Block should win due the district's Democratic lean but if conservatives continue to spend heavily and Plescia can make it through the campaign with his moderate image intact this could be one to watch.
How Close Are The Democrats to two-thirds?
In order to see how close or far Democrats are to hitting two-thirds, I've re-rated each Senate race to say which party is favored. Since Democrats control 14 of the Senate seats that aren't up until 2014, they'll need to win 13 of the 20 seats up in 2012 in order to get to the magic number.
Safe Democratic: SD-03, SD-07, SD-09, SD-11, SD-13, SD-15, SD-17, SD-25, SD-33, SD-35. Total, 10.
Safe GOP: SD-1, SD-21, SD-23, SD-29, SD-37. Total, 5.
Likely Democratic: SD-19, SD-39. Total, 2.
Likely GOP: None
Lean Democratic: SD-27. Total, 1
Lean GOP: None
Tossup: SD-05, SD-31. Total, 2.
According to my ratings, the Democrats look very likely to hit two-thirds. As long as they carry each seat they are favored in, they will get the 27 seats they need even if they lose both tossups. If the GOP is to stop them it will need to run the table: it will need to carry both tossup seats and unseat Fran Pavley or, more unlikely, defeat Hannah-Beth Jackson/ Jason Hodge or Marty Block. Essentially, the GOP needs a reverse Murphy's Law: everything that can go right must go right. (Pun kind of intended).
The news isn't all grim for the California Republican Party. If it overturns the Senate lines at the ballot it will give them another chance to get more favorable seats via redistricting. Even if this doesn't happen, if the GOP can win both tossup seats it will only need to pick up one Senate seat in 2014 to take the two-thirds majority away: Republicans believe they have the chance to pickup two seats that year. Additionally, Assembly Democrats have a much tougher hill to climb if they want two-thirds in their chamber; as long as the GOP has over one-third of seats there it will have the power to block the Democrats on a number of issues or at least force concessions from them. Nevertheless, the situation looks bad for the GOP in the Senate. This November the GOP faces a challenging, though not impossible, battle to keep whatever power in the Senate it still has.
Disagree with my ratings? Did I make a mistake? Did I leave something out? Please let me know in the comments!