Results of State Assembly Primary 'Not Surprising'

Photo: State Assembly Candidate Nancy Skinner raises a toast after hearing the election results at Downtown Restaurant.
Aditya Rohilla/Photo
State Assembly Candidate Nancy Skinner raises a toast after hearing the election results at Downtown Restaurant.

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Nancy Skinner Addresses Supporters

Nancy Skinner addreses supporters at a campaign party Tuesday night.

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Photo: Assembly Candidate Nancy Skinner embraces one of her supporters during the party held at Downtown Restaurant to 
celebrate the results on the night of the primary elections.   

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Nancy Skinner's victory in the state's Democratic primary for the Assembly District 14 seat was expected by many who cited Skinner's political past, campaign finances and key endorsements from democratic leaders as reasons for her success.

Over the course of her campaign, Skinner was the party's clear favorite, raising more money than the other candidates and harnessing several important endorsements, including Loni Hancock, the district's current seat holder.

Skinner captured 47.59 percent of the vote in Contra Costa County and 45.54 percent of the vote in Alameda County, defeating Tony Thurmond, Kriss Worthington and Phil Polakoff.

Jack Citrin, Director of the Institute of Governmental Studies of Political Science at UC Berkeley, said that he thought Skinner's victory was predictable because of her political history in Berkeley.

"Nancy Skinner is in a certain sense part of the dominant political organization in Berkeley," Citrin said. "She has formally served in local politics. She's connected to the (Berkeley Mayor Tom) Bates-Hancock faction that has been really the dominant Berkeley political grouping. Especially in a low turnout election with the other candidates being less well-known and less well-financed, it's not surprising."

Voter turnout in Alameda County was 24.24 percent, while 29.05 percent of registered voters in Contra Costa County cast their votes in the race, according to the counties' registry of voters.

About 9,500 fewer people voted in this primary compared to the District 14 State Assembly primary two years ago.

Citrin said that while voter turnout is generally low in local elections, this election's timing contributed to particularly low voter participation.

"This is an election with very little national or statewide significance on the ballot," said Citrin. "If there's no particular reason to vote, if in some sense the outcomes are preordained, then you are going to get low turnout."

In 2004, when the Democratic primary for the seat coincided with the primaries for the presidential election, 71,571 people voted for the democratic state assembly primary.

On Tuesday, only 47,554 people who reside within the area represented by the Assembly District 14 seat cast their ballots.

In the first of this year's primaries in February, 275,873 registered Democratic voters cast their vote for the Democratic presidential nomination in Alameda County and 197,883 democrats voted for the nomination in Contra Costa County.

However, the voter turnout in this election is not significantly lower than recent turnout in non-presidential primary years.

In 2002, 57,317 voted in the same race; in 2006, 56,089 cast their ballots in the primary for the assembly seat.

Thurmond, who currently sits on the Richmond City Council, said that the way the district is structured may have affected the results of Tuesday's primary election.

"It has been said that Berkeley will vote at a rate of three to one over Richmond voters," he said. "If that is true, then the only way the seat will be filled by someone other than a Berkeley person is to have redistricting. Either way, I think it's irrefutable that we need redistricting so that we have districts that are better aligned with the population that reside within the district."

Worthington, a member of the Berkeley City Council, said Skinner's initial status as the party favorite contributed to her success in fundraising.

"I think she went into the race as the favorite," he said. "When you're seen as the favorite and when the polls say you're in first place, people want to give to the person that's going to win."

In the 2006 Berkeley City Council elections, incumbent Councilmember Worthington won the District 7 seat by only about 6.21 percent over George Beier.

As far as funding goes, Skinner said she raised around $335,000 over the course of her campaign. Thurmond and Worthington reported raising $300,000 and $110,000, respectively.

Polakoff could not be reached for comment.

Worthington also said Skinner had an edge in the election as the only female candidate.

"We've had a pattern of women holding the seat for the last three elections," he said. "I think that was a major factor. It would have been a very different race if it had been two men and two women running."

Skinner attributed her victory to a combination of her 35 years of service to the area and a successful campaign message that was well-received by voters.

"I do have a history of working in the East Bay and ... voters saw that and knew that," she said. "I think that the other real factor was that my purpose in running was really to bring back California's commitment to our public education and to end the irrational decision to not raise revenue that keeps us from solving the health care crisis."

Skinner noted that she had close to 1,000 individual donors, which she said is indicative of a wide base of support.

Additionally, Skinner said that while Hancock's endorsement played a significant role in her success, it was not the deciding factor.

"Loni is very well respected," she said. "But endorsements alone clearly don't win a race. All of us candidates had a lot of endorsements."

More important to the election, Skinner said, was her campaign's use of resources.

"I think my fellow candidates had been spending their money a lot earlier," she said. "My consultant was very, very wise about how we used our resources. I think it was just a really efficient campaign."


Contact Ashley Trott and Anna Widdowson at [email protected]

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