SACRAMENTO — Of the 100 Assembly and Senate seats up for grabs in the March 2 primary election, political experts say more than 20 races could be close. These, all for open seats, are some of the most notable:
* In the Republican-dominated 37th Assembly District, which includes much of Ventura County, the wife of Assemblyman Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark) is running to replace him. She faces three competitors: Jeff Gorell, once an advisor to former Gov. Pete Wilson and now a Ventura County deputy district attorney; Mike Robinson, a former member of the staff of Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks); and Eric McClendon, a former Louisiana attorney who moved to California in 1998.
Robinson has committed $500,000 of his own money to his campaign. Gorell had $35,000 cash on hand and Strickland had $224,200 as of mid-January.
* Term limits have driven former Assembly speaker Herb Wesson from the 47th District in Los Angeles, which includes Culver City, Westwood and UCLA. The district was redrawn in 2002 to make it less heavily African American, but it is still strongly Democratic.
Of the five Democratic candidates, former Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden has perhaps the best name recognition. But attorney Rickey Ivie has the endorsement of Wesson. Karen Bass, a clinical instructor at the USC School of Medicine, has a strong base among community activists and has been endorsed by new Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles).
Other Democrats running are Richard P. Groper, a political science professor at Cal State Fullerton who is targeting the Jewish vote, and David A. Cooper, a business consultant and teacher of marketing and advertising. All but Cooper have raised more than $100,000.
* Term limits also have opened up the race in the heavily Democratic 50th Assembly District, which includes Bell, South Gate and Lynwood. Three Democrats are running to replace Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh (D-Los Angeles).
The most prominent candidate is Hector De La Torre, mayor of South Gate. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2002 and made a name for himself as a critic of the South Gate officials who left the city nearly bankrupt and mired in corruption investigations. De La Torre's competitor, Hector Chacon, a former member of the Montebello Union School District board, had $54,400 on hand in mid-January, compared with De La Torre's $122,700.
* Three Republicans are contending for the GOP-leaning 60th Assembly District, which covers Walnut, Diamond Bar, Chino Hills and part of Anaheim.
Gayle Pacheco, wife of Assemblyman Robert Pacheco (R-Walnut) and president of Western Hardware Co., hopes to replace her husband in Sacramento. She is backed by Republican leadership in the Assembly. Her opponents are Bob Huff, a member of the Diamond Bar City Council, and W. Bill MacAloney, president of the Jax Markets chain. All three have lent themselves tens of thousands of dollars.
* The son of Rep. Joe Baca (D-San Bernardino) is one of three Democrats vying to replace Assemblyman John Longville (D-Rialto) in the safely Democratic 62nd Assembly District, which encompasses Rialto and part of San Bernardino County.
A high school teacher, Joe Baca Jr. has won the endorsements of many high-profile Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). His chief competition is David Roa Pruitt, chief of staff to the mayor of San Bernardino. Pruitt is endorsed by Longville. Also running is Walter S. Hawkins, a member of the Rialto Unified School District board. Baca leads in fundraising.
* For the safe Republican seat of the 63rd Assembly District, which includes Rancho Cucamonga and Redlands, six Republicans want to replace Bob Dutton, who is running for a Senate seat.
The most serious contenders are Bill Emmerson, an orthodontist backed by the state's prison guards union; Mike Morrell, president of Provident Home Loans; and Elia Pirozzi, president of a real estate marketing firm who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2000. Emmerson leads in fundraising.
* The Legislature may get its first Vietnamese American member if Republican candidate Van Tran beats fellow Garden Grove City Councilman Mark Leyes in the 68th Assembly District, where Republican voters dominate. Tran, an attorney, had $180,000 on hand in mid-January, while Leyes, who works for Assemblyman Pacheco, had $149,000.
* Politics watchers call the two-way struggle in the 69th Assembly District of Orange County one of the most interesting on the ballot. Most voters in the Democratic-leaning district live in Santa Ana.
The two Democratic candidates are Santa Ana City Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez and former Assemblyman Tom Umberg, who ran unsuccessfully for insurance commissioner and attorney general. The legislative Latino caucus endorsed Alvarez, and the California Dental Assn. has backed her with a $40,000 independent expenditure campaign.
* Six Republicans are running in the securely GOP seat of the 70th Assembly District, which covers Laguna Beach and Irvine.