For pure entertainment value, the primary campaign for the open seat in the 15th Congressional District was simply fantastic.
It gave us one great moment after another.
Like when 31-year-old Dublin city councilman Eric Swalwell compared 80-year-old congressman . Or when Rep. Pete Stark accused , then . Or when Stark accused a San Francisco Chronicle writer of contributing to Swalwell's campaign, . Or when Stark accused Swalwell for taking bribes again, and then apologized — again.
But today it gets serious as voters in the newly formed district head to the polls to narrow down the choices for their next congressman. But don't worry the entertainment isn't over. As Tuesday ends and Wednesday begins, another campaign of craziness is likely coming.
Before we dive into the next campaign, let's first go over what's at stake today.
There are three candidates:
- Pete Stark — The liberal Democrat who has been in Congress since Richard Nixon was president. Seriously, I'm not exaggerating.
- Eric Swalwell — Also a Democrat, though slightly less liberal, but a lot younger. Forty-nine years to be exact.
- Chris Pareja — He's not a Democrat. He's also not Republican, but he is conservative. In other words, he's the other guy.
Of these three men, the two that receive the most votes survive and advance to a general election on Nov. 6. (Just so I'm clear, the candidate that receives the fewest votes also survives, they're just out of the race. I was pretending I was writing about March Madness.)
There has been no public polling of the race but on the surface it seems like Stark and Swalwell are the favorites to finish first and second tonight. Both of the Democrats have a huge financial and organizational advantage over Pareja.
But the problem they face is they're both Democrats. In the new district — which includes San Ramon, Dublin, Pleasanton, Livermore, Castro Valley and Union City — 48.5 percent of registered voters are Democrats, while 23.9 percent are Republicans. The rest are registered with a smaller party or not registered at all.
If Stark and Swalwell split the Democratic vote and if either of them don't pickup enough independent votes, then Pareja could sneak into the top two if he wins almost all of the Republican votes and some independents — on the ballot, Pareja is listed as having "No Party Affiliation".
Though Stark has made a in the campaign and didn't receive the endorsement of the San Francisco Chronicle or the Bay Area News Group (Swalwell did), it still seems unlikely Stark will finish with less votes than Swalwell. Stark has won every election he's been in for 40 years, has outspent Swalwell, received the and has name recognition — finishing behind two newbies would be a shocking end to his political career.
Stark, however, could be seriously vulnerable is in November if he faces Swalwell. Stark is one of the most liberal Democrats in Congress and if Swalwell -- who is a mainstream Democrat but right of Stark -- can convince Republicans to vote for him with the ol', "Hey, you might not like me, but I'm not Pete Stark," argument, he might just make the leap from Dublin City Council to U.S. House of Representatives.
If Pareja finishes in the top two, he will face a massive challenge to beat either of the Democrats head-to-head. He would have to overcome a significant voter registration, organization and financial disadvantage. It would be a David versus Goliath situation and then some.
But, at this point, it's speculation. After the votes are counted tonight, we will know who will campaign against who in Round 2. I just hope the unintended comedy of the general election campaign will match what we've seen so far.
They set the bar high.
To learn more about the candidates, read a transcript of Patch's live chat interviews with and . Rep. Pete Stark's campaign didn't respond to an interview request.