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7 Hotly Contested California Primary Races to Watch on Election Day

by Crystal Innabi, published

On Tuesday, Californians across the state will go to the polls to vote. It will be the second time Californians have voted in the state's nonpartisan, top-two open primary since it was passed by 53 percent of voters in 2010. In this system, the top two vote getters in the primary, regardless of party affiliation, move on to the general election to face off.

So who are the California races to watch? Here is the breakdown:

Statewide Races

California Governor

While Democratic incumbent Jerry Brown is expected to win a historic fourth term by a sizable margin, the June 3 primary will determine who faces Brown in the general election. In the most recent poll released this week, Brown's closest Republican opponents, tea party favorite Tim Donnelly (R-San Bernardino) and Neel Kashkari (R) are in a dead heat going into the primary.

According to a USC Dornsife/LA Times poll, For much of the primary season, Donnelly held the edge over Kashkari in the polls.

The Republican Party will be represented by whomever comes in second. While Donnelly has polarized voters on issues like gun control, Kashkari, a former investment banker with Goldman Sachs, has had a difficult time appealing to fiscal conservatives for his roll in orchestrating the famous “bailouts” after the 2007 financial collapse. Kashkari has outspent Donnelly 10-to-1.


Secretary of State

The primary race to be California's chief elections officer -- once between 8 candidates, now 7 -- will be decided on June 3. The list of candidates include 3 Democrats: State Senator Alex Padilla, Derek Cressman, Jeff Drobman; 2 Republicans: Pete Peterson, Roy Allmond; 1 Green Party: David Curtis; and 1 No Party Preference: Dan Schnur. Suspended Democratic State Senator Leland Yee was arrested in March charged with political corruption and firearms trafficking.

Independent-minded voters have an

interest in whether or not the next secretary of state will defend California's nonpartisan primary system, which was passed in 2010 by a majority of voters.

All but one of the current candidates have gone on the record as to whether or not he will protect the individual right of voters to participate in the state-funded primary election. State Senator Alex Padilla has made conflicting statements regarding his support for nonpartisan open primaries.

Conversely, Cressman has openly opposed the primary system, while Drobman, Allmond, Schnur, and Peterson support the right of independent voters to participate. Curtis would support the top-two California system if modified to allow more third party candidates to participate in November.

An April Field Poll showed Peterson in the lead at 30 percent and Padilla in second with 17 percent. Curtis, Schnur, and Cressman were polling at 5 percent, 4 percent, and 3 percent, respectively, while almost 41 percent of voters were still undecided.


California Congressional Races

15th District

California’s 15th Congressional District race is proving to be one for the history books. This race began in 2012 when Eric Swalwell beat incumbent Pete Stark with 52 percent of the vote after finishing second in the top-two primary. Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett is Rep. Swalwell's most likely general election opponent for control of the Northern California district, which includes part of Silicon Valley.

With the endorsement of Democratic top dogs such as President Barack Obama, Swalwell has now gained widespread support while still holding on to his previous grassroots connections – the same support that was essential in 2012.

This year, Corbett has the support of Swalwell's former opponent, Pete Stark, as well as numerous labor organizations, including the Alameda County Central Labor Council. Thus, as in 2012, Swalwell may find more voters and another term by appealing to voters outside the traditional Democratic base.


17th District

The 17th district, home to Silicon Valley’s famous technology sector, has historically been a very safe seat for Democratic incumbent Rep. Mike Honda, who has spent 14 years in Congress. Under the new primary system, Honda faces a serious threat from his closest Democratic opponent, Ro Khanna.

In a new poll released by

KPIX-TV, Rep. Honda has pulled ahead, 40 percent to Khanna's 21 percent. Republicans Vanila Singh and Joel Vanlandingham follow at 8 percent and 6 percent, respectively.

Khanna, who easily surpasses his opponents in campaign financing, has only recently moved ahead of Singh in the polls, spending an estimated $2.7 million on his race. Honda, although holding a current majority, will likely hold out for the general election before spending his estimated $1 million cash-on-hand.

The deciding votes in California's 17th district may reside in the hands of the district's independent voters.


21st District

Once strictly Republican, California's 21st district is a prime example of how the state's recent redistricting and nonpartisan primary reforms have shifted the purely partisan landscape. Incumbent Rep. David Valadao will be facing a more competitive race, as the Democratic candidates gear up for the June 3 primary.

As with the gubernatorial race, the 21st Congressional District race is truly a race for second place -- i.e. who will face Valadao in the November general election.

Valadao's closest rivals are Amanda Renteria, a former U.S. Senate staffer, and former Central CA Hispanic Chamber of Commerce official John Hernandez. Both candidates lack the funding Valadao has accumulated. Yet, due to the district's large Hispanic population, and history of working for immigration rights, Hernandez still poses a threat to his opponents if he makes it to the general election.

While some polls show Hernandez ahead of Renteria, others show Renteria in the lead. Nonetheless, it is almost certain that one of the two will accompany Valadao in the general election.

With pressing agricultural bills in the House and the Senate that will directly influence the district's constituents, the election in the 21st district is surely one to watch. Whoever is elected will have a major roll in the "farm bills" that will soon be on the House floor.


31st District

Longtime congressman Gary Miller (R) announced he would not seek re-election in 2014. Now, the 31st Congressional District has Republicans and Democrats gearing up for what is going to be one of the most aggressive races thus far.

Democrats are eager to take back control of the San Bernardino district -- perhaps too eager. The 4 Democrats in the race may split support between themselves, allowing 2 Republicans to advance into the general election. Miller was able to hold onto his seat in 2012 under similar circumstances.

According to Tulchin Research, Paul Chabot (R) holds the lead with support from 30 percent of voter's polled. However, this does not mean the district is voting Republican. In fact, the combined totals for Democrats Pete Aguilar, Eloise Gomez Reyes, Danny Dillman, and Joe Baca exceed 41 percent, while Republicans Chabot, Lesil Gooch, and Ryan Downing hold onto 36 percent combined.

No party preference or independent voters will end up as the district's most sought after voting bloc.


52nd District

Incumbent Rep. Scott Peters is the only Democratic candidate in the race. On June 3, he faces off against Republicans Carl DeMaio, Kirk Jorgensen, and Fred Simon. Polls show that Peter’s closest Republican rival, Carl Demaio, has a lower approval rating than when he ran for mayor in 2013. But Peters was elected by just a one percent margin in 2012 over Republican Brian Bilbray -- so this race is far from over.

As the only district in California that is considered a true "toss up," the future for the 52nd district is highly unpredictable. Party affiliation is split almost down the middle, with independents only a few points behind. Republicans are attempting to add to their majority in the House and some may argue that the 52nd district will likely fall into this upheaval. However, the division and differences among the Republican candidates may sway voters in favor of Peters, who maintains a moderate approach to politics.

Nonetheless, the 52nd Congressional District election will be one to watch, as northern San Diegans will play a significant role in making this an extremely close race.

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