CA15: Bussell now leads Corbett by 710 votes

The long, tough wait goes on in the 15th Congressional District, where Friday’s vote-tally updates still couldn’t provide a clear picture of who’ll finish second behind Rep. Eric Swalwell.

Alameda County’s update had narrowed Republican Hugh Bussell’s lead over state Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-Hayward, from 600 votes to 310, but then Contra Costa County’s update broke in Bussell’s favor so that he now leads Corbett by 713 votes – about 1.1 percent of all votes counted so far.

Both counties still have tens of thousands of vote-by-mail and provisional ballots to process, so the candidates must remain on pins and needles – except for Swalwell, of course, who’s sitting pretty no matter who’s in second place.

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.

  • Willis James

    Is the second place candidate a winner or loser?
    I think the Republican can feel better about spreading his message, whereas Corbett would be forced to engage in a meaningless slog.
    Can you imagine a debate… Hit the snooze alarm.

  • JohnW

    Wonder if Swalwell will debate his opponent, whichever one gets second place. As I recall, he was critical of Pete Stark for limiting “debate” to a couple of joint appearances (not debates).

  • Elwood

    Whichever of these slugs is the “winner”, I’d rather see Swalwell debate an empty chair.

  • RRSenileColumnist

    Corbett should debate RoKha on how people benefit from having to choose between 2 Dems in general election

  • Marga

    I get the impression that Swalwell has met Corbett at quite a few candidate fora. I also get the impression that none of the candidates have pressed for a debate, as none of them are competent enough so risk having questions posed to them that they cannot answer.

    This, of course, is why Honda does not want to debate Khanna. I am convinced that he only agreed to do it because he is unaware of how foolish a move that is. It seems that all previous invitations to debate were put to his staff, and his staff – very wisely – declined them. This one was put to Honda directly, in front of a camera, and after a forum in which he did fairly well (there were no difficult questions and nobody challenged him).

    I am very curious to see whether Honda will follow through. My bet is that his campaign will try to put conditions so as to make any debate impossible. After all “better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

    If only Pete Stark had followed that advice from the start!

  • Guest

    Ellen Corbett ran very, very poorly in this race. While I thought she would lose, I didn’t think it would be this bad. Corbett is a sitting State Senator – a rather powerful Senator to boot – given she is Senate Majority leader. Yet she is finishing a weak third, it appears – not even making the run-off. Eric Swalwell just throttled her as the sportswriters say. Even if the vote totals change and she squeaks into the run-off she has nothing to looking forward to but getting thumped in November too. Clearly Corbett was unable to make a case – any case – why voters in CD15 should replace this nice young ex-prosecutor after a single term. he was doing a good job, working incredibly hard, why replace him?

  • JohnW

    You could ask the same question in a number of districts where it will be two R’s in the general. The people benefit when the minority party finds candidates who can broaden their appeal enough to get more votes than the second most popular majority party candidate. I’m a D, but, back in the day before the GOP morphed into a freak show, I often voted for Republicans for state and district offices. I don’t often get that choice these days. But it looks like it will happpen this time in a couple of the statewide contests and in the contest for Joan Buchannan’s Assembly seat.

  • Elwood

    Back in the day before the Democrats morphed into a freak show, I often voted for Democrats for state and district offices.

    No more. Not ever.

  • Marga

    I don’t think it’s about that at all. I think in this election, voters voted by rote: for incumbents, for party, for names they recognized, for ballot designations that made sense to them. Were *any* incumbents defeated in any races in California? Other than that horrible judge, I mean.

    I think Corbett cold have run a better campaign, I think it wold not have made a difference. I don’t think voters were paying attention at all. People who voted were people who always vote, they were caught unaware however, and they voted based on the list above.

  • JohnW

    The Democratic party nationally has not shifted much from the New Deal, except for getting rid of the Dixiecrats. California is a different story due to the one-party aspect and the ruinous role of public employee unions. But there is nothing on the Democratic side that remotely compares to the Tea Party movement takeover of the GOP, with many ugly manifestations I won’t bother to list here.

  • Elwood

    As the recent primary election results show, the Tea Party is a LONG way from taking over the GOP.

    Both parties have had movements which needed to be flushed.

    You may now stop looking under your bed for the Tea Party, John.

  • JohnW

    Oh really? Most so-called traditional Republicans who survived primary challenges did so by shifting to the right and adopting Tea Party rhetoric and policy positions. Tea Party wins either way — by getting their own candidates elected or by pushing the opposing candidate to the right.

    My bed would be poor habitat for the Tea Party species.

  • Elwood

    Well, I for one think that it’s good to have two parties in this country rather than a liberal mishmosh called the DemoPublican party.

  • JohnW

    As a 17-year-old, I bought into the rhetoric of a fellow named Goldwater, who declared that that moderation was no virtue.

    Older and, I hope wiser, I prefer to have a choice between candidates whose mindsets are between the 30 yard lines. I want to choose between two good candidates with broad appeal, whom I can support regardless of the election outcome.

    This ideological purity BS is great for academic debate. But, in the real world, it means win-lose, where 50 percent of the electorate is disenfranchised. And most of it is pandering anyway, not a reflection of the true beliefs of the candidates. But once they say it, they are stuck with it whether they actually believed in it in the first place.

  • Rare for challengers to defeat incumbents in primary elections even before Top Two, @SLtalk:disqus. The November general election is where that defeat usually takes place.

    Also, hard not to argue that Ellen Corbett was an incumbent of sorts — approximately 50% of the 15th Congressional District saw her name on a ballot before in 2010, 2006, and 2002, 2000, and 1998. The vote on Tuesday, June 3, represented a simply stunning repudiation of her lame campaign for Congress that failed to capitalize on voters’ familiarity with her or any real message.

    Imagine Parke Skelton won’t include this race on his list of past campaigns/clients.

  • Marga

    I think incumbency – as in having the office you were running for as your ballot designation – trumped name familiarity this time around. Her campaign was lame, but looking at the numbers (and we’ll know more when the statement of vote comes out), I’m not sure the most brilliant campaign would have made a difference.

    But I’m curious as to how many other Congressmembers failed to get at least 50% of the votes this June. Any idea, Josh?

  • California House members
    who received <50% in last week’s primary:

    Ami Bera, D-Rancho Cordova
    (46.9%, five challengers)

    Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin (49.3%,
    two challengers)

    Jim Costa, D-Fresno (44.6%,
    five challengers)

    Mike Honda, D-San Jose (48.5%,
    three challengers)

    Lois Capps, D-Santa
    Barbara (43.7%, eight challengers)

    Julia Brownley, D-Thousand
    Oaks (45.6%, three challengers)

    Mark Takano, D-Riverside
    (44.7%, three challengers)

    Scott Peters, D-San Diego
    (42.3%, three challengers)

    But I don't need to remind you that this doesn't tell the whole story. Someone like Scott Peters, who had three challengers all to his right and came up so short, is in big trouble; someone like Swalwell, who had a challenger on either side and so stands to easily pick up a lot of votes on one side or the other come November, need not break a sweat.

  • Elwood

    Never say die, Marga!

    Swalwell won big, but not big enough so that makes him vulnerable? Is that what you’re trying to say?


  • Marga

    I think that any incumbent with under 50% share of the vote in the primary is vulnerable. In the case of Swalwell, he’ll win in November easy, and he’ll probably do well in ’16. I think ’18 is the year for a challenge.

  • Elwood

    Hang in there, Marga!

    At his age he might serve 20 terms.

    Don’t give up!

  • Marga

    I’m not 🙂

  • JohnW

    Seriously? You think the district will vote for him for three consecutive terms and then dump him? Maybe if his name was Bill Baker or Richard Pombo!

  • JohnW

    “Tea party is a LONG way from taking over the GOP”

    Tell that to soon-to-be ex-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

  • Marga

    or Eric Cantor?

  • @joshrichman:disqus, no disagreement that Scott Peters in #CA52 probably winds up as California’s most endangered Democratic incumbent, BUT also seems like his campaign husbanded a lot of resources for fall 2014 in terms of spending, knowing that the #CA31 or controllers’ race danger of two Republicans making the top two remained unlikely in a District with 35%+ Democratic registration.

    Peters is a brawler — now that Congressman Eric Swalwell is out of danger for 2014, I’d wager that Swalwell will try to help folks like Peters, Julia Brownley, Lois Capps, Ami Bera and potentially Mark Takano (depending on the seriousness of the GOP challenger) in the months ahead.

  • Interesting point, Marga, about Eric Cantor! One problem — Cantor in some respects set himself up for defeat after the 2010 redistricting in Virginia (controlled by a GOP-dominated legislature and Republican governor) when he made his own district more rural and more conservative to help make other nearby surrounding Democratic districts more competitive for “traditional” Republican candidates.

    See, e.g., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Cantor#Electoral_history

    Before 2010, Cantor regularly received more than 60% of the vote.
    Moreover, for your prediction about 2018 to come true for Congressman Eric Swalwell, the Top Two primary in California likely would need to go away, which remains unlikely given that voters — despite the sorry turnout last Tuesday — still seem to like the jungle primary and wouldn’t repeal it in a referendum.

    But, let’s say that voters did return to the old system of closed party primary elections . . . the Democratic Party in the 15th Congressional District would needed to have moved SO FAR to the left of Congressman Swalwell by that time — a dubious proposition at best — that 60% of the Democrats (e.g., the percentage of the District’s Democrats that reside in Congressman Swalwell’s base of Dublin/Livermore/Pleasanton) would need to vote him out.

    That’s pretty unlikely.

  • Elwood


  • Marga

    You get me wrong, DD. I think Eric is vulnerable under the open primary system, not the traditional system.

    Eric ran as a conservative Democrat in ’12 but moved to the Democratic center once he was elected. He’s pretty much voted upon party lines since then. This makes him vulnerable to a challenge from the right – in particular from the libertarian Democratic right. If no Republican enters the race, that Democratic challenger could do the same thing Eric did in ’12: make it to November and then win on the strength of the Republican & conservative Democratic votes.

    Conversely, if Eric is challenged by both a strong Republican (and Bussell may be able to build upon this finishing and build strength over the next few years) and a strong liberal in an open primary, there is a possibility that he can be squeezed out, not being able to get enough votes from the middle to make it past June. This is what Corbett should have been aiming at more directly, but she really didn’t have the tools or the ideological base to do it.

    I don’t believe either scenario is likely for 2016, even 2018 may be too soon. That’s because, on the one hand, voters need to have their own reasons to grow disappointed with Eric and Eric needs to develop a record upon which he can be attacked.

    OTOH, Eric is right now a campaigning dynamo. He seems to spend every second of the day campaigning. But eventually he is going to have to slow down. He’ll want to marry again, have children and have a life. Someone can then outcampaign him.

    Basically Eric is vulnerable to someone coming and using Eric’s own formula.

    Of course, I will admit that I’m likely to have some wishful thinking bias going on here: that’s because the “answer” to both scenarios is for Eric to take a stronger position on civil liberties (including gun rights), which is what I’d like to see from hm.

    BTW, you might be interested on re?-reading my analysis of this race from back on 2/13. I don’t think I did too badly, what do you think? http://sanleandrotalk.voxpublica.org/2013/02/12/elections-2014-can-ellen-corbett-beat-eric-swalwell/

  • Naj

    Swalwell will crush Corbett in the general election. It will not be pretty, but it will waste a lot of money. I have no idea why she even ran, but she will never get my vote again. I think the main reason she defeated Dutra was that she had a Prius on her mailers.

  • Naj

    The Tea Party has done a damn fine job of taking over the Republican party. Thank those Koch bros. Get your head out of the ground, or wherever.

  • Naj

    If Pete Stark followed advice, he’d have retired years ago. Good riddance to bad rubbish. If Khanna debates Honda, everyone will see what a meh candidate Honda is.