Democrats Steve Glazer and Susan Bonilla led a five-person field late Tuesday and are headed to a May runoff for the East Bay Senate seat vacated by Democrat Mark DeSaulnier when he took his place in Congress.
In unofficial results, Glazer, the mayor of Orinda, and Bonilla, a state assemblywoman from Concord, finished first and second, outpacing former Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan of Alamo in one of three special elections for the Legislature’s upper house Tuesday. The other contests were held to fill the seats of newly elected Republican Reps. Mimi Walters of Laguna Niguel and Steve Knight of Palmdale.
In Knight’s old 21st district, former GOP lawmaker Sharon Runner was the only candidate listed on the ballot and easily beat out several write-in candidates. Runner previously represented the region when she won a Senate special election to succeed her husband in 2011. She returns after receiving a life-saving double lung transplant for a rare autoimmune disease.
In the three-person race for Walters’ seat, Republican former Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach was poised to win the race outright and avoid a May rematch with Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine. Elections officials had Moorlach drawing 51.4 percent of the vote to Wagner’s 45.1 percent in unofficial returns.
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But it was the East Bay race that commanded much of the attention given the large sums spent by competing business and labor interests. The trio of top-tier candidates raised a combined $800,000, and outside interests spent $2.4 million ahead of the special election. Glazer was the top vote-getter and some 2,400 votes separated Bonilla and Buchanan. Republican Michaela Hertle and Democrat Terry Kremin rounded out the field.
For Glazer, a former aide to Gov. Jerry Brown, the Senate contest is a chance at redemption. His support for a ban on transit strikes and past consulting work for a business-funded campaign committee angered unions who opposed him last year in the race to succeed Buchanan in the overlapping 16th Assembly District.
Among the unknowns heading into Tuesday was whether Hertle would draw enough votes to sway the race. She withdrew from contention weeks ago and endorsed Glazer but not before her name could be removed from the ballot.
Hertle’s candidacy received $68,000 in outside spending support from the Asian American Small Business PAC, a development Glazer dismissed as an underhanded effort by public employee unions to prevent him from advancing to the May 19 runoff.
In a statement, Glazer said the results were “positive evidence that voters want a fiscally responsible bi-partisan problem solver who is independent from powerful special interests.”
He added: “The deception and manipulation by the (Bay Area Rapid Transit) unions and their allies had an impact, but failed.”
Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago.