When California voters approved Proposition 14 in 2010 — an initiative to allow open, multiparty primaries — the idea was to cut down on the rancorous, ideologically extreme rhetoric that had become commonplace in the races leading up to the general election.
However, local residents voting in state Senate races Nov. 6 will see a quirky side effect of the law that probably was not envisioned.
State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and Jerry Hill, the Democratic assemblyman from San Mateo, will square off against the same opponents they handily defeated in the June primary, taking most of the suspense out of the general election. The rematches would not have occurred under the old rules, but now the top two vote-getters in the primary face each other in the general election,
regardless of party affiliation.
Leno, who served three terms in the Assembly before being elected to the Senate in 2008, will run against Republican Harmeet K. Dhillon, who lost by a 65-point margin in June, to represent the new District 11.
“I’ve been blessed with a very supportive district,” Leno said. “But nothing is final until the voters speak in the run-off.”
Dhillon said District 11 contains parts of San Mateo County and western San Francisco that have voters who are historically more conservative and willing to vote for Republicans. She did concede that her campaign is facing an uphill battle.
Although Leno might cruise to victory again, the race could be tighter for Hill, who currently represents Assembly District 19 and is running for the recently revamped Senate District 13. Hill secured 51 percent of the vote in June, besting runner-up Sally Lieber by nearly 30 points. Even though both are Democrats, Hill and Lieber, a former assemblywoman from Mountain View, will square off again in November.
Despite his yawning victory in the primaries, Hill plans to increase his grass-roots campaigning efforts for the general election.
“We had hundreds of volunteers making phone calls for the primaries, but we’re going to far exceed those numbers for the November election,” Hill said. “The presidential voters don’t vote as frequently as others, so we want to make sure they’re engaged and familiar with our campaign.”
Lieber said she withheld resources for the primary in anticipation of campaigning against Hill in the general election. She was outspent by Hill $710,000 to $66,000 on mailers in the lead-up to the primary, but now she is investing more heavily in trying to woo voters.
“It’s an incredibly large and diverse district, so we had to make tough decisions on spending for the primaries,” Lieber said. “We decided to save our resources, so we think we’ll be a little more evenly matched for the general election.”
San Mateo County accounts for 82 percent of Senate District 13, with Santa Clara County making up the remaining 18 percent. Leno’s former District 3 comprised San Francisco County and a northwest segment of San Mateo County.