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State Senate election may require 2 rounds of balloting

March 19, 2009|Jean Merl

The identity of the next state senator for the Los Angeles area's 26th District almost certainly will be known once ballots are counted in Tuesday's special election. But it may take another round of voting, eight weeks later, before the outcome is official.

Eight candidates are running to replace Mark Ridley-Thomas, who was elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in November, in the district, which is politically liberal and ethnically and economically diverse. Six Democrats, one Republican and one Peace and Freedom Party member are on the ballot in the district, which includes several Westside communities, parts of South Los Angeles, Baldwin Hills, Ladera Heights, Culver City, West Hollywood, Silver Lake and Larchmont, among others.

The district's registration -- 66% Democratic -- and voting history virtually ensure the seat will again go to a Democrat. But if no candidate musters a majority of the ballots Tuesday, another special election will be held May 19, with the top vote-getter from each of the three political parties with candidates in the race.

That means whichever Democrat comes out on top Tuesday will be the next representative of the district, said Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, which provides nonpartisan, detailed analyses of the state's political districts.

"The only question is can it be won outright, or will the Democratic winner have to go to a runoff," said Hoffenblum, who, like other political experts watching the race, sees Assemblyman Curren Price Jr. as the front-runner.

Price has far outpaced the others in fundraising, bringing in about $340,000 for his campaign so far, including some from gaming interests. Even that amount pales in comparison to the at least $700,000 that several special interest groups -- including organized labor, business groups and police are spending independently to advance Price's candidacy.

Other candidates have attacked Price because of the money and the fact that he only recently moved into the district to run. But Price, who is endorsed by Ridley-Thomas, said he was "proud to have the support" of working people, police officers and others. He said part of his 51st Assembly District lies within the Senate district.

Money is particularly important in a low-turnout election, as the Senate contest is expected to be, because it is the only one on the ballot, experts say. Money can help pay for campaign mailers to a candidate's likely supporters, an extensive absentee drive and get-out-the-vote telephone calls and follow-up.

"To do all that right is quite expensive," Hoffenblum said. "The money on the Price side is overwhelming, but with that many candidates, we'll find out if money can buy it or buy it outright," without the need for a runoff, he added.

The number of candidates on the ballot makes it more challenging for any one of them to reach the 50% plus one vote needed to avoid a runoff.

Among them is financial analyst Jonathan Friedman, who has long been active in Democratic politics and serves on the board of the South Robertson Neighborhoods Council. Friedman has raised roughly $180,000 for his campaign, including about $75,000 of his own money.

The only white Democratic candidate for a seat that historically has been held by an African American, Friedman is running on his expertise in finance, saying he is "uniquely positioned" to help the state out of its longtime budget woes. He opposes the recent hike in the state sales tax as "counterproductive" because it will discourage spending or drive customers to tax-free Internet shopping.

The other five Democrats, including Price, are African Americans, prompting one of them, management consultant Mervin Leon Evans, who has run for office several times before, to wonder aloud whether "the black guys will beat each other up," leaving an opening for Friedman and the only Democratic woman in the race, Culver City School Board member Saundra Davis.

Davis has said she wants to improve public schools by lowering class sizes and adding programs to combat childhood obesity.

Assemblyman Mike Davis is a former longtime aide to several Los Angeles area elected officials, including former Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters. He said one of his efforts in Sacramento has been to combat elder abuse, and he has called for the reopening of Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital near Watts. He has raised about $38,000 for the race, according to records on file with the state.

Robert Cole, who once worked for Price and was a congressional aide, headed African American outreach efforts for President Obama's campaign in California. He is a member of the county Economy and Efficiency Commission and chaired a City Council District 8 committee. He says his background enables him to offer himself "as the only candidate with experience at all four levels of government."

He reported raising about $113,000, including a $73,000 loan to himself.

The Republican is Rabbi Nachum Shifren, a triathlete, author and former Los Angeles County lifeguard. He calls for lowering taxes, deporting illegal immigrant gangs and "bringing back excellence" in education and industry.

Cindy Varela Henderson, the Peace and Freedom candidate, is a telephone technician who calls for increasing property taxes on corporations and adding new taxes for the wealthy and oil companies.

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jean.merl@latimes.com

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