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Targeting the hot local races

You know about Meg and Jerry and Barbara and Carly. But here are some other things to watch on Election Night. Democrats in the Assembly are hoping to pad their wide margins in the Legislature, while Republicans hope to add a couple of Congressional seats to what is promising to be a good night for Congressional Republicans nationally. Win, lose or draw, here are some of the races we’ll be watching on Election Night.

Assembly District 5 — This race between Democrat Richard Pan and Republican Andy Pugno has received national attention because of Pugno’s role as an author of Proposition 8. Although this district has been represented by Republicans since it was redrawn after the 2000 census, Democrats have spent millions on behalf of Pan, a physician who has run a surprisingly strong campaign. While national Democrats are bracing for big losses nationally, Assembly Democrats are hoping to pad their 51-seat majority in the lower house with a Pan victory, and by holding on to their other seats.

AD 15 — This race is a rematch of the 2008 battle between Democrat Joan Buchanan, who is now the incumbent, and San Ramon Mayor Abram Wilson, a Republican. The GOP is focusing on this district as their best chance for a pick-up in the heavily gerrymandered Assembly. Buchanan was elected during a strong Democratic year, and state Republicans hope a national Republican tide may help sweep Wilson into office. If elected, Wilson would be the only Republican African American in the entire Legislature.

Senate District 12 — Democrats lost perhaps their best opportunity to pick up a seat in the state Senate when Sam Blakeslee defeated John Laird in a special election earlier this year. On Election Night, the focus of the Senate’s political activity will be on the Merced-area seat being vacated by Sen. Jeff Denham (R-Merced), who is running for Congress. Democratic Assemblywoman Anna Caballero is running against Ceres mayor Anthony Cannella, son of former Democratic Assemblyman Sal Cannella. Although Democrats hold a 17-point registration advantage in the district, this is the Central Valley, home of some of the state’s most conservative Democrats. Cannella has run a strong campaign, and Republicans are looking to him to keep this seat in Republican control.

Superintendent of Public Instruction — This is a non-partisan race, but has attracted millions in contributions from teachers unions, who are backing Assemblyman Tom Torlakson. Larry Aceves a retired superintendent shocked Sacramento insiders by emerging as the state’s top vote-getter in June. Aceves, a former Democrat, has reregistered as a decline-to-state voter and is seeking support from some opponents of the teacher’s unions.

Congressional District 3 — In a year when Democrats have been on defense, this Sacramento-area district has been a rarity in this election cycle — a change for Democrats to knock off a Republican incumbent. Dan Lungren, who once represented Long Beach in Congress before being elected state attorney general in 1990, has held the seat since 2004. This year, he has faced a strong challenge from Dr. Ami Bera, who surprised Republicans with his fundraising prowess and strong electoral showing. Lungren received less than 50 percent of the vote in his 2008 victory over Democrat William Durston, and Democrats hope that is a sign of weakness that they can capitalize on this week.

CD 11 — Democrat Jerry McNerney has held this seat since 2006, when he knocked off Republican incumbent Richard Pombo. But this year, it is McNerney who is at the top of the Republican target list and is marked as the state’s most vulnerable Congressional Democrat. McNerney’s challenger is David Harmer, who ran for Congress against John Garamendi in a 2009 special election in a neighboring district. Harmer lost that election, but has the full backing of the National Republican Congressional Committee this year, as Republicans see an opportunity for a pick-up in California.

CD 20 — The Central Valley is California’s perpetual electoral battleground. This year, moderate Democrat Jim Costa is among those in the crosshairs of the GOP as he fights for a fourth Congressional term. Costa is facing a strong challenge from Andy Vidak, a cherry farmer from Hanford who has run strong in some recent polls. This race, along with Loretta Sanchez’s reelection bid in Orange County, may be the state’s best measures of the size of the expected Republican Congressional victories on Election Day.

CD 47 — This race may be the state’s best barometer for the size of the expected Republican tidal wave. Democrat Loretta Sanchez has held this seat since 1996, when she defeated Robert Dornan in what was seen as a sign of how Orange County was changing. Fourteen years later, Sanchez has been caught in a nasty political battle against Assemblyman Van Tran. Sanchez came under fire for comments she made during a Spanish-language television interview when she said “the Vietnamese” were attempting to take the seat away from her. Democrats hold a 15 percent registration advantage in the district, but if the Republican momentum is strong enough, it just may sweep Sanchez out of office.

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