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Voter Turnout Will Decide Competitive Dem v. Dem Race in AD-17

by Nancy Phung, published

“Why even talk about June? It’s just a warm up,” said David Lee, the executive director of the Chinese American Voters Education Committee, who, after seeing the primary results, feels that much can happen in Assembly District 17 between now and November.

“It can be any candidate. It’s like starting all over again,” Lee added.

The candidates in the Assembly race are Democratic San Francisco supervisors David Campos and David Chiu. Chiu is the son of Taiwanese immigrants. Campos, who is gay, was born in Guatemala and came here as an undocumented immigrant. The election is guaranteed to produce either the first Latino or first Asian Assembly member to represent District 17.

The race may also produce the fourth consecutive LGBT state legislator to represent San Francisco, continuing an 18-year tradition of consecutive LGBT officials representing the district.

The district, known as the cradle of the nation’s LGBT community, is also a historic APA home to Chinatown, Japantown, Little Saigon, and Manilatown. Lee thus confirms why predicting November's results is difficult, saying:

“The election results tell the tale. Chinatown went 72 percent (for Chiu) and the Mission went over 60 percent for David Campos and the gay vote was a split.”

The two candidates chose to make it an especially tough and close race in the primary by infusing their campaigns with a lot of negativity. Beginning with a series of negative mailers from the Campos campaign early in the race, the two have been increasingly combative. Some have concluded that these actions are attempts by the candidates to differentiate themselves.

Both candidates went to Harvard Law School at the same time, were elected to the Board of Supervisors as progressives in 2008, and re-elected in 2012. They have similar positions on housing affordability and have voted together on a number of issues -- like Campos’ ordinance prohibiting city law enforcement agencies from cooperating with immigration authorities. Both candidates have a massive number of endorsements and are members of the same political party.

Chiu won 48 percent of the vote in the primary, while Campos pulled in 43 percent. Though Chiu had a 5-point lead, Campos believes the general election will not produce the same results, saying:

"I think this shows we are going to win in November and it shows that Chiu is in trouble. The fact they outspent us 2-to-1 and ran a negative campaign against us with a moderate electorate and a very low turnout and we are within single digits, five points away and closing in, tells you we are going to win."

Though both candidates are Democrats, Campos and Chiu will advance to the general election under California's nonpartisan, top-two open primary system. In the nonpartisan system, all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, appear on a single ballot and every voter has an opportunity to select which two candidates will be on the general election ballot.

In this race, Campos and Chiu were joined by Republican David Carlos Salaverry, who only received 8 percent of the primary vote. Thus, the two Democrats advanced to the general election.

Chiu’s campaign spokeswoman,

Nicole Derse, said that she is pleased with the results.

“We’re in a good position for November,” she said.

She touted Chiu’s “diversity and breadth” in campaigning throughout the entire city, “from Chinatown to the Bayview.” Derse is optimistic that November’s election will bring out more voters, including those from younger, Chinese, and independent demographics.

Come November, the electorate will be very different from the primary election, in which only 22 percent of registered voters participated.

“You are going to get more independents and Decline-to-State and that’s 40 percent of registered voters,” Lee said.

It also comes down to Chiu's ability to mobilize the growing Asian population in Bayview and Visitation Valley and if Campos could mobilize the Latino population in the Mission.

“It all depends on what the campaigns do from now until November,” Lee said. “It’s anyone’s race.”

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