With Phil Angelides’ narrow victory over centrist Democrat Steve Westly, the
stage is set for a rematch of last year’s special election between organized
labor and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Labor played an instrumental role in carrying Angelides past Westly in a
hotly contested Democratic primary. With low voter turnout and a nasty
barrage of campaign commercials from both sides, Tuesday night showed once
again the importance of labor’s endorsement in a Democratic primary.
“There was no real ground campaign for Westly, and that’s what did it,” said
Bob Balgenorth, president of the State Building and Construction Trades
Council and an Angelides supporter. “In labor, I think everybody felt that
Angelides had shown guts when he stood up to Arnold when no one else would.
We walked precincts, we did direct mail, we sent out 140,000 DVDs of
Angelides talking to workers. Angelides is a liberal and he believes in
labor in his heart.”
Barbara Kerr, president of the California Teachers Association, says labor’s
backing pushed Angelides over the top. “We always make a difference. We
definitely make a difference,” she said.
But Schwarzenegger senior strategist Matthew Dowd said there are big
differences between the special election and the upcoming governor’s race.
“The general election has someone’s name on the ballot and it has somebody
that you are going to have to vote against or vote for,” he said.
“Personality drives that.”
Angelides certainly catered to his party’s base to win the primary, but as
he now tries to inch toward the center, he will find Gov. Schwarzenegger
standing there. The governor has spent the year preparing for the November
election, and will be able to champion a $36 billion bond proposal in
November that enjoys support from many of Angelides’ Democratic backers.
Balgenorth noted the incongruity of labor supporting both Angelides and the
governor’s bond proposals for the November ballot, but he said that labor
groups would campaign for both. “The die is cast on the infrastructure
bonds. There is a huge need for improvements in California’s infrastructure
and we’ll campaign for it.”
Angelides will have to work to hold on to Democratic voters as well, as
Schwarzenegger tries to poach centrist Democrats away. Westly strategist
Garry South says Angelides will have his work cut out for him in November.
South, who was the mastermind behind Gray Davis’ 1998 victory, was wary of
drawing parallels between Davis and Angelides in terms of enthusiastic
support from the Democratic base. “Labor certainly helped him, but labor was
not full tilt for this guy [Angelides], in terms of manpower or resources.
I’ve seen labor at full-tilt, and this wasn’t it.”
While labor had a big night at the top of the ticket, the results in
legislative races was more mixed. The Service Employees International Union
(SEIU) endorsed candidates in 21 competitive legislative races. A
SEIU-backed candidate won 11 of those races. The California Teachers
Association had a much better night, winning in 14 of the 18 races where
they endorsed a candidate.
The evening proved to be a bad one for legislative spouses, as the wives of
Tom Harman, Joe Canciamilla and Ed Chavez all lost their bids to take over
their husband’s seat. Mike Eng, husband of Assemblywoman Judy Chu, won his
primary in the 49th Assembly District.
Among the surprises of the night was the Democratic primary for state
controller, where Sen. Joe Dunn lost a close race to Board of Equalization
member John Chiang. In other down-ticket races, Sen. Debra Bowen bested Sen.
Deborah Ortiz. Cruz Bustamante won his party’s nomination for insurance
commissioner, but unknown John Kraft received 30 percent of the Democratic
On the Republican side, conservative candidates once again carried the day.
Despite an underfunded campaign Claude Parrish won his party’s nomination
over moderate Assemblyman Keith Richman. And former Assemblyman Tony
Strickland bested Sen. Abel Maldonado in the race for state Controller.
Of 13 sitting legislators who sought higher office, only three survived
contested primaries–Bowen, Strickland and Assemblywoman Judy Chu for the
District 4 Board of Equalization Seat, who defeated Assemblyman Jerome
Horton. The losers included Assemblyman Ray Haynes in the 3rd Board of
Equalization seat, who was defeated by Michelle Steel.
John Howard, Shane Goldmacher and Jonathan Friedman contributed to this