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Even in small California race, the gulf oil spill looms large

The Gulf of Mexico oil disaster has symbolically drifted West and fueled a gusher of an election on California's photogenic Central Coast.

On Tuesday, in an obscure special primary where turnout may be low, Democrat John Laird and Republican Sam Blakeslee – along with two minor candidates – will compete to represent California's 15th Senate District.

It's an exceptionally long district, with a lot of coastline, snaking from northern Santa Barbara County up through San Luis Obispo, the Monterey coast and into parts of Santa Cruz and southern Santa Clara counties. Democrats hold a registration advantage over Republicans of more than six percentage points.

Talk of the state budget crisis and GOP accusations of excessive Democratic spending have come up during the race, which was triggered by the departure in late April of former GOP Sen. Abel Maldonado, now lieutenant governor.

But in an area with so many beaches, the Gulf of Mexico debacle – and Blakeslee's past as a former Exxon employee and supporter of offshore drilling – have come to dominate the contest, said Larry Gerston, a San Jose State University expert on state politics who lives in the 15th district.

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