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VOTER GUIDE / CALIFORNIA

Very few legislative races are real fights

Federal and state district lines protect incumbents and discourage challengers.

October 19, 2008|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — There are dozens of contests for state and federal legislative office on the Nov. 4 ballot, but attention is focused most sharply on just a handful.

California's ballots include 46 congressional seats for which the incumbent faces at least one challenger, but the way voting districts are drawn in the state means several are safe bets for the officeholders.

For example, Rep. Diane E. Watson (D-Los Angeles) is being challenged by Republican college student David C. Crowley II in a district where more than 65% of voters are Democrats and 11% are Republicans. Similarly, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) is seeking reelection against three less-known challengers, including anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, in a district that is 56.8% Democratic and 9.2% Republican.

Seven congressional incumbents, including Los Angeles County veterans Howard Berman, Henry Waxman, Xavier Becerra and Hilda Solis, have no opposition.

The two hardest-fought congressional races are in Northern California.

One features Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock of Thousand Oaks and Democrat Charlie Brown, a retired Air Force officer from Roseville, in the 4th District northeast of Sacramento. The other is in the 11th District, extending from San Jose to the Central Valley, where freshman Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Pleasanton) is facing a tough challenge from Republican Dean Andal, a former state Assemblyman from Stockton.

"Those are the two priorities," said State Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres. "We took the 11th District away from the Republicans and we want to keep that seat."

Countered Ron Nehring, chairman of the California Republican Party: "The 11th provides us with an opportunity to take back a congressional seat which was lost a couple of years ago. The 4th District is an open seat and Tom McClintock is a very strong candidate."

In the state Legislature, all Assembly seats and half of the Senate seats are on the ballot.

Although 12 of the 20 state Senate posts are without incumbent candidates, the real contest for many of those offices was in the June primary election. But there is a hot race for McClintock's seat in the 19th District, which the senator is vacating because of term limits.

There, former Assemblyman Tony Strickland, a Republican businessman from Thousand Oaks, is competing against former Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Democrat and attorney from Santa Barbara.

Republicans in the district have a slight edge, with 42.9% of registered voters compared to 36.3% Democrats. But Jackson also has a high profile as a former legislator and significant fundraising ability.

Another closely watched race pits Assemblywoman Lois Wolk (D-Davis) against Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian (R-Stockton) in the 5th Senate District. That battle is between two sitting lawmakers with strong constituencies.

Of the 80 Assembly seats on the ballot, 28 have no incumbent running, because of term limits. Those competitive races include:

* The 36th District, which covers parts of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. Republican Steve Knight, a Los Angeles Police Department officer and Palmdale city councilman, is competing with Democrat Linda K. Jones, a teacher from Antelope Valley and member of the Westside Union School District board. The district is 40.3% Republican and 38.3% Democrat.

* The 80th Assembly District, which includes parts of Imperial and Riverside counties. Republican Gary Jeandron, of Palm Springs, the former police chief there, is in a contest with Democrat Manuel Perez, an educator-healthcare director from Coachella. Both candidates have raised substantial sums of money with the help of party leaders. Voters in the district are 44.7% Democrat and 37.8% Republican.

* The 26th District, which takes in parts of Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. Democrat John Eisenhut of Turlock is facing off against Republican Bill Berryhill of Ceres. Both men are farmers. Voters in the district are 41.6% Democrat and 40.6% Republican.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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