California’s new balloting rules mean that Stark likely needs to reach beyond the Democratic base, as he will face a Democrat in November for the first time in his career. In the June primary, an independent candidate took in more than 20 percent of the vote, and the non-Stark vote totaled nearly 58 percent of the electorate.
How Republicans will vote in a Democrat vs. Democrat race--or if they’ll vote at all--remains unclear; 2012 is the first year under California’s new electoral rules. The seat’s registration is 49 percent Democratic, 24 percent Republican and 22 percent declined to state, according to data from Redistricting Partners.
It’s also not clear if Stark has adjusted to the state’s new balloting rules. The biggest name supporter he’s brought into the district, in June, was departing Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an icon of the left, hardly an olive branch to independents or Republicans. (The campaign has since gone through a shake-up, as Stark parted ways with his original chief strategist, Alex Tourk.)
Swalwell is running less on ideological grounds. He acknowledged he likely wouldn’t vote all that differently from Stark, describing himself as a solid Democrat. Instead, he’s made the race about character and work ethic. He accuses Stark of missing votes in Congress while living full-time in Maryland. “He doesn’t live here, doesn’t work there: How’s that working for you?” he said.
Stark’s new district, meanwhile, has been redrawn to capture some of the Bay Area’s more politically moderate suburban communities, in places like Pleasanton, Livermore, and Dublin, which Swalwell represents on the city council.
Though Stark has represented the broader region for four decades, Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce President Scott Ray said, “Eric Swalwell is more of a known entity out here.”
Campaign cash could be the biggest pitfall for Swalwell. While he has outraised Stark in each reporting period in 2012, he still trails the incumbent $79,000 to $379,000 in cash-on-hand. He has a paid staff of only three, and his campaign office, such as it is, is a single room. That is not the kind of financial firepower usually necessary to unseat an entrenched incumbent.
Then there is Stark’s personal wealth. His financial disclosure form shows he has assets worth as much as about $30 million, including a large warehouse building south of San Francisco that paid him between $1 million and $5 million in rent in the last year. How many of Stark’s assets are liquid, or whether, at 80, he’d tap them to remain in Congress, are open questions.
Terris said he has had “no discussions” with Stark about him using his personal money to fund the campaign.