Capitol Alert

Why some campaign spenders back two candidates for same seat

Assemblyman Richard Gordon, D-Menlo Park, during session in the Assembly chamber in 2013, is termed out this year. The June 7 primary race to succeed him features eight candidates.
Assemblyman Richard Gordon, D-Menlo Park, during session in the Assembly chamber in 2013, is termed out this year. The June 7 primary race to succeed him features eight candidates. hamezcua@sacbee.com

The Cooperative of American Physicians has spent more than $200,000 in five different Assembly and Senate primary contests around the state, supporting a mix of Democrats and one Republican.

Sometimes for the same office.

In the eight-candidate race to succeed Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-San Mateo, the cooperative’s outside spending committee in recent weeks has spent $30,000 on mailers supporting Democrat Marc Berman. It also has spent $13,000 on mailers and phone banks to support one of his longshot opponents, Republican Peter Ohtaki – in a district where Republicans make up just one-fifth of the voters.

What’s the point? Neither the cooperative nor its campaign consultant were available for comment on Friday. But the spending in the 24th Assembly District has all the hallmarks of top-two primary tactics, 2016 edition, as special interests try to shape a favorable November ballot.

Berman and fellow Democrat Vicki Veenker, have raised and spent the most money in the contest, and Berman is the biggest beneficiary of the $1.4 million in outside spending. So spending money to boost Ohtaki – whose campaign had spent less than $13,000 through May 21 – increases the odds that Berman would face an easier race against Ohtaki in November, rather than a Democrat-on-Democrat bloodbath against Veenker.

Similar top-two political math seems apparent in San Bernardino County’s 47th Assembly District.

Almost all of the $2.3 million in outside spending has gone to support or oppose Democrats Cheryl Brown and Eloise Gomez Reyes. But a pair of business-backed spending groups that include pro-Brown donors has spent almost $100,000 to lift the prospects of Aissa Chanel Sanchez. A Republican, Sanchez has reported raising and spending no money on her candidacy to represent a district where less than one-quarter of voters are Republicans.

Yet the pro-Sanchez spending likely increases the odds that Brown, who seeks a third Assembly term, would face a cakewalk against Sanchez in the fall, instead of a runoff against Gomez Reyes.

The current primary season isn’t the first instance of ballot creativity. During a Senate special election last year, a union-funded group spent heavily to support the Republican candidate in the race to help undermine the prospects of Democrat Stever Glazer. Glazer won anyway.

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