Politics & Government

Democrat clings to lead in Assembly special election

A special election that could restore Democrats’ supermajority in the California Assembly hung surprisingly in the balance on Wednesday, with uncounted ballots representing far more votes than the current margin between the two candidates.

Vacancies have left Democrats one seat short of the two-thirds majority that allows them to govern without Republican input. The open 45th Assembly District seat, held by Democrat Bob Blumenfield until he won election to the Los Angeles City Council earlier this year, offers a chance for Democrats to re-establish their dominance.

But as of Wednesday afternoon, the secretary of state’s office reported that Democrat Matt Dababneh, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, held a slender 171-vote lead over his opponent, Republican Susan Shelley, out of more than 26,000 votes counted so far.

Ventura County has finished certifying its results, but the bulk of voters live in Los Angeles County. As of noon on Wednesday, 2,841 ballots remained to be counted there, elections office spokeswoman Regina Ip said. Special elections for state candidates rarely spur significant voter turnout, and this one was no exception: Turnout stands at about 10.5 percent districtwide.

Dababneh drew nearly $500,000 in campaign contributions, far eclipsing the just under $50,000 for Shelley. Even with that fundraising gap, Shelley managed to keep things close in a district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 23 percentage points. Her campaign emphasized preventing a Democratic supermajority from tampering with Proposition 13, the 1978 ballot measure that limits increases in property taxes.

On Wednesday, Shelley attributed her surge to voter discontent with Democrats who are largely inoculated from challengers and concerns about a revived Democratic supermajority.

“The idea that taxes could be raised, that things could get on the ballot without any Republican input” helped motivate voters, Shelley said, adding that her socially moderate platform lets her focus on the economy.

This week’s election was the second Assembly special election in a row where the Democratic candidate in a seemingly safe Democratic district was in danger of losing. In September, Pomona Democrat Freddie Rodriguez won by 400 votes in the 52nd Assembly District.