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Saturday, June 14, 2008

A look at ahead at November

As much as Jim Provenza is breathing easier right now as County Supervisor Elect, his victory in June has taken away a potentially intriguing fall match up. On the other hand, it is also possible that John Ferrera did not turn out to be nearly as formidable a candidate as he seemed to be.

Naturally most of the world will be watching the Presidential Elections. At the Vanguard, we also keep our eye on the top, but the bulk of our coverage is on the local.

So what do we have in store for people at the local level? A few races still worth following.

Let us start with the most interesting race locally that will be for State Senate if for no other reason than there are very few open seats in the Senate in competitive districts and this is a competitive district, although I would suggest it leans Democratic.

Four years ago, Incumbent Mike Machado was challenged by Stockton Mayor Gary Podesto and the two combined for nearly $10 million in spending in a race that drew statewide attention.

Despite the competitive nature of the race, Machado ended up winning fairly comfortably at 52.2 to 47.8 percent. The margin was just under 13,000 votes. That's a close outcome, particularly in California, but not that close.

Some have suggested that the 5th District is now more Democratic than before. In addition, given the economy and concerns about the direction of the country, this figures to be a Democratic year. Democratic Primaries drew record numbers across the nation including in California back in February.

If we look at the results from the Senate District in the primary, you see that Democratic candidate Assemblywoman Lois Wolk despite having an opponent that drew 11,684 votes, still out polled her opponent, colleague, Greg Aghazarian by nearly 13,000. That's of course in the primary, but it is an indicator of base support. You have to figure that most of her Democratic opponents votes will go to her in the general.

Some can argue that the contested Democratic Assembly primary in the northern part of the district, impacted the turn out.

They may have a point. If you look at the Sacramento and San Joanquin county totals, you see that Aghazarian did in fact narrowly outpoll Wolk in each county. In Sacramento County he outpolled her by 19 votes, but Jennet Stebbins (Dem) had 650 votes. In San Joanquin Aghazarian outpolled Lois Wolk by 1100 votes with Jennet Stebbins receiving 7324.

In other words, in the Southern and more conservative part of the district, the portion where Wolk is not currently the Assemblywoman, Wolk is outpolled by 1100, but Democratic voters outnumbered Republican voters by nearly 7000.

What it all means when the two candidates are waging air wars, is anyone's guess, but if I had to handicap it, Wolk would have a greater advantage than Machado. Apparently they are going to try to run against Davis as part of the strategy to defeat here. So they are going to run against Toad Tunnels and other eccentricities of Davis. There is great irony there however, as Lois Wolk was not a supporter of those types of policies, in fact, she was on the opposite side on a lot of the issues they will try to pin to her (although she did vote for the Toad Tunnel).

We also have the 8th AD race. This is a heavily democratic district. Mariko Yamada is for most intents and purposes the next Assemblywoman, but she does have a general election challenger in Manuel Cosme. I do not know much about Cosme.

What I do know is that 2002 is the last time there was an open seat for the 8th AD. Lois Wolk ran against former Davis School Board Member John Munn. John Munn would appear on paper to be slightly stronger than Manuel Cosme. On the other hand, Mariko Yamada may be somewhat weaker than Wolk. Nevertheless Wolk won handily 58-42, a margin of 16,000 votes. The other two races she won by 41,000 in 2004 and 38,000 in 2006.

This is a district with a 48 to 31 advantage for Democrats. It may not be a safe district, but it is a strongly Democratic district. Unless the Republicans are bored, it is doubtful they will use their resources in the 8th Assembly District.

That leaves us with an interesting wild card locally and that is whether or not the school district will put another parcel tax on the ballot. As I said before, I just do not see how they cannot do it. But if they do, they will have to run a real and hard fought campaign. They are going to have a 75 to 80 percent turnout in November versus a sub-30 percent turnout last November. They are going to have a very wary and angry electorate to deal with. This will be no slam dunk. So this election will bear watching as well.

A final note on the passing of Tim Russert

You know a person has been influential when everyone has been impacted by them at some level. As a political junkie, he was a guy that I admired and I used to point out as an example to my students as someone to watch. He was the best and toughest interviewer I have ever seen.

Too many interviewers can be tough on people that they disagree with, but they are soft as anything when they agree with. Not Tim Russert. He was always prepared. He always asked the tough questions and if you were weak on your stuff, he would bury you. Republican and Democrat alike.

That is the way it ought to be. It does people no good whether you agree or disagree to ask the easy questions. You do not learn anything and it cannot neutralize your doubters.

Russert was tough, but he was also fair and polite. He is what many in journalism aspire to be. Interestingly he started out as political strategist working for Mario Cuomo and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He was an ardent Democrat and yet one of the fairest and most balanced reporters and analysts around--he criticized everyone and asked Democrat and Republican alike the tough questions.

One of the things that struck me most about people's accounts of his life, was invariably his love for the Buffalo Bills. Those who know me in my personal life, know of my love and passion for sports, particularly for the St. Louis Cardinals. The identification Russert had with the Bills was something I could relate to. Among all of the things that he accomplished, people also remember the smaller things that give us joy in life.

At 58, Tim Russert was far too young and this country and the Presidential election will sorely miss his presence and his graceful influence.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting