A few more thoughts on Pete Stark’s defeat

We’ve posted my story for tomorrow’s print editions on how Rep. Pete Stark’s defeat marks both the end of an era and, probably, the start of another Democrat-on-Democrat race for the 15th Congressional District in 2014. Here’s a few final thoughts for which there wasn’t room in that story, but which seem noteworthy nonetheless.

This was a contest for which our editors wanted election-night photographs, but Stark’s campaign refused to tell us Monday and Tuesday where he would be Tuesday night; I still don’t know where he watched the returns.

I take this as a sign that his campaign staff knew there was a pretty good chance he would lose. I’d bet their final internal polling showed a tight race, perhaps with Stark holding a small lead, but with many last-minute “undecided” voters likely to break against the incumbent. Apparently they did.

San Jose State University political scientist Larry Gerston said Stark’s “quirky political behavior and a dramatically changed district” fueled his downfall at least as much as the top-two primary system. That is, Stark’s loss necessarily doesn’t mark a sea change in how future campaigns will be run, and other Bay Area House Democrats need not look over their shoulders.

“This was the exception to the rule – I don’t know any other elected official in Congress who had the reputation Stark had,” Gerston said. “It’s a shame. He’s a man who at one time had an impeccable reputation, a liberal icon. This is more a story of ‘his time had come.’”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • John W

    Sort of like Berman and Sherman, right? Sounds like fun.

    Another one to watch is if Pelosi decides to hand her leadership over to somebody else in January, in anticipation of retiring from the House.

  • Truthclubber

    Enjoy that $180K per year paycheck while you can, Smellwell — cuz here comes Ro! With his multi-million dollar warchest and a legion of supporters from across the (true) Democratic spectrum!

    Let the 2014 CA-15 games begin!

  • Elwood

    @ 2

    Forward, forward Don Quixote!

    Attack those damn’ windmills!

    Ellen Tauscher is hiding in one of them!

  • Rasta Republican

    Don’t forget that local Republicans gave a lot of support to Swalwell via robo calls internet endorsements etc. Plus a general hatred of their ancient tormenter Stark. That could have easily have been the difference maker in this election and could be a swing factor in any dem vs dem race in this district going forward.

  • Josh Richman

    @4 – Absolutely; not that he didn’t get plenty of Democratic votes, but I’d say Republican voters probably were Swalwell’s victory margin.

    Such is the top-two system. As it’s “father,” Abel Maldonado, has said time and again, it’s meant to foster moderation by forcing candidates to appeal to a broader spectrum of voters. And there’s a whole lot of room to the right of Pete Stark.

  • moderate voter

    Josh, zero chance there will be Democratic bloodbath in 2014 in the 15th, no way will you see a Swalwell, Corbett, and Khanna race.
    Kahnna and Corbett rolled dice – and lost – they were going to wait until Stark retired to run in 2014. Under that scenario you had “open” seat, now the 15th has an incumbent, a young incumbent – only 31 – who will likely work 24/7 to strengthen base over next two years.
    I find unlikely – highly unlikely – Nancy Pelosi would back another candidate for that seat in 2014, Swalwell is liberal enough, not a left wing bomb thrower like Stark was, but he’s a pro-labor Democrat. What would be the point of running somebody else in the 15h district in 2014?
    Swalwell is just perfect for that district, he’s moderate -to liberal, pro-labor, in tight with the small business community He works well with Republicans and independents. He’s an incredibly hard worker to boot. Also, little old ladies like this kid Swalwell, you put all that stuff together and he should cruise to victory in 2014, provided he does good job, which I’m sure he will.
    I think Nancy Pelosi, George Miller, and other Dem leaders are astute enough to understand what happened here. You didn’t just have a 31 year old kid take out an 81 year old Congressman. Erik Swalwell represents the younger generation, his campaign team was a bunch of kids just out of college, his precincts walkers a bunch of high tech workers, all young kids – the ones with these cell phones and all these high tech gizmos. These young kids and the candidate they backed Erik Swalwell – in a stunning upset – defeated the candidate backed by the Democratic Majority leader in Congress. They defeated Washington DC power brokers, and they did the hard way, one vote at a time. That’s pretty impressive, let me tell you.
    I was reading yesterday 20% of the voters in the just concluded national campaign – who just re-elected President Obama – were between the ages of 18-29. This young cohort of voters, they want power too, they want to elect candidates, be a part of the process. That’s what you saw in Swalwell campaign, a bunch of young idealistic kids knocking on 30,000 doors to elect a young person to Congress, and they won, they beat the DC power brokers. It was beautiful thing to watch.
    Frankly, I just don’t see Pelosi and Miller – both pushing 70 – having high level power broker meetings in DC for the purpose of coming up with a candidate to defeat this young upstart Eric Swalwell in 2014. I think they probably got the message of the Stark-Swalwell campaign, you’ve got to find spots for these ambitious young kids, they want to run for office, they bring stuff to the table. You can’t sit up there in Washington DC and say, “I think you need more seasoning, we’ve got everything under control here, come back when you grow up”. That’s what they did to Eric Swalwell, and he ignored them, he went out and raised his own money, ran his own campaign, and now he’s the Congressman in the 15th district.

  • GV Haste

    There’s been a long standing weird idea in EastBay Democratic circles that getting votes from Republicans is some kind of shame on a candidate.

    Even during this race we heard charges that Swalwell was looking for Republicans.
    What foolish thinking from a group that has been calcified for decades.

    The rules of the game changed and the long time local leaders failed to adapt. They lost yet they still try to say, wait until 2014, when a “real” Democrat will win. One of their anointed few with party imprimatur.

    Wake up to reality. You need Republican and independent votes to win.
    If Ro and Corbett don’t get some Republicans, they’ll lose.

  • RR, Senile Columnist

    Hey Pete! Don’t let the door hit ya on the way out !