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Party Labels Will Not Define Dem v. Dem Race in Calif. Senate District 26

by Nancy Phung, published

California Senate District 26 saw a crowded pool of 8 candidates in the June 3 nonpartisan, top-two open primary. There were no Republican candidates in the race. There was, however, one No Party Preference candidate, Seth Stodder, who came in third behind Democrats Sandra Fluke and Ben Allen.

With less than 3 percent of the vote separating them, the race between Fluke and Allen to fill the seat in District 26 is highly competitive. State Senator Holly Mitchell (D), who is currently representing the district, is seeking re-election in District 30 after her district changed numbers as a result of redistricting. Fluke and Allen are running to replace state Senator Ted Leiu, who is running for Congress in the 33rd Congressional District.

In an interview for IVN, Allen was asked what efforts his campaign has made to reach out to the 53.7 percent of the electorate who are not registered with the Democratic Party. The two-term member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District said the core of his campaign is community outreach -- working hard to reach voters across the political spectrum.

Allen mentioned the support he has gained from Republican leaders such as former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan and added that he will try to be a consensus builder.

Fluke also insists that her campaign’s outreach is not defined by party labels.

After talking to voters, she said many of the district's constituents are not too concerned with labels. Instead, they want someone who is “able to focus on reforming state government so it is more accessible and responsive to the people.”

Fluke added that she is proud to have the endorsement of independent candidate Seth Stodder.

When asked what distinguishes his campaign from his opponent, Allen emphasized that he has deep roots in the district. From his private business to being president of the local school board, he focused specifically on his years involved in community-building within the area.

Fluke, on the other hand, explained that because her career as a political activist was not confined to a single geographical area, she has more experience working on legislation at the state level and on a wider variety of issues. She says her campaign is different from her opponent in how it is run.

Instead of relying on funding from mega-donors or independent expenditures, Fluke says her campaign is completely funded by grassroots support. She believes this sways her from special interests, and she hopes to encourage other candidates to follow this campaign model.

On the topic of California’s top-two primary, where all voters and candidates, regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof, participate on a single primary ballot and the top two vote-getters move on to the general election, Fluke feels the new system has some unintended consequences. Specifically, she mentioned its effect on costs:

“My race is a perfect example — we essentially have two full campaigns between the primary and the general election, which means candidates need the resources to run twice in a short period of time.”

“Part of the intention of the top-two primary system was to increase voter participation, something I care very much about, but unfortunately we’ve seen some very low turnout lately,” she added.

Allen said that though it makes it “difficult running against a fellow Democrat, it is a positive change because it makes everyone’s vote relevant, regardless of party. It forces candidates to try to appeal broadly.”

The Senate district, located along the coast in Los Angeles County, is considered a Democratic stronghold. A little over 46 percent of registered voters are Democrats and 23.8 percent are Republicans, leaving just under 30 percent unaffiliated with either major party.

In previous elections before the implementation of 'Top-Two,' the votes of those not affiliated with the Democratic Party would not have carried the same, equal weight that they will in the 2014 general election. Neither Fluke nor Allen will be able to solely rely on Democratic voters to win, meaning the race will ultimately be decided by voters outside the party.

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