With Labor Day behind us, Californians need to brace themselves for the tidal wave of ads, mailers, robo calls and door knocks between now and the Nov. 4 election.
The deluge will make it easy to burn out early. So for Bay Area voters hoping to cut through the noise and get straight to the important stuff, here are nine things to focus on:
1.) Get ready to rumble. Gov. Jerry Brown and Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, crushed their opponents in the June primary, but the runners-up in what are this November's marquee races will get their chance to land some blows in two upcoming debates.
Brown, who seeks a historic fourth term, tussles with Republican newcomer Neel Kashkari on Thursday at 7 p.m. in Sacramento. The Laguna Beach asset manager and former U.S. Treasury Department official has tried to build buzz with his "undercover" stint as a homeless person looking for a job in Fresno, as well as a contest offering $25,000 to a college student who designs the best campaign ad. Honda, a seven-term incumbent, has been criticized for dodging challenger and fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, a former Obama administration official from Fremont. The two finally face off in a debate Oct. 6 at San Jose State. The winner in November will represent the heart of Silicon Valley and the first district outside Hawaii with an Asian-American majority.
2.) Key California House races. Not only is there little chance of Democrats retaking the House, but the GOP could even pick up some seats in blue California. Perhaps most endangered are three freshmen Democrats: Ami Bera, D-Rancho Cordova, challenged by former GOP Congressman Doug Ose; Julia Brownley, D-Thousand Oaks, opposed by Republican Assemblyman Jeff Gorell; and Scott Peters, D-San Diego, facing Republican Carl DeMaio, a former city councilman.
3.) Mayoral races. Two large Bay Area cities elect new mayors. San Jose will choose between Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, a liberal backed by unions unhappy with termed-out Mayor Chuck Reed's controversial pension reforms, and City Councilman Sam Liccardo, a more business-oriented candidate who supported Reed in his efforts to trim retirement costs. In Oakland, a whopping 15 candidates are vying for mayor, including incumbent Jean Quan, council members Libby Schaaf and Rebecca Kaplan, City Auditor Courtney Ruby and Port Commissioner Bryan Parker. Oakland's ranked-choice system, in which voters list their top three choices, is as much about calculus as it is about campaigning.
4.) Down-ticket statewide races. The result of the governor's race might be a foregone conclusion, but some other constitutional office contests will be hard fought. Democrat Betty Yee, a Board of Equalization member from Alameda, is facing off against Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican rising star, for state controller. State Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys, is battling Republican Pete Peterson, who runs a Pepperdine University public policy institute, for secretary of state. And Tom Torlakson, the incumbent superintendent of public instruction who enjoys the support of public unions, will have a fight on his hands for that nonpartisan office against challenger Marshall Tuck, a Los Angeles school reformer.
5.) Contentious ballot measures. Proposition 45, which would give the state insurance commissioner new power to reject health insurance rate hikes, is backed by consumer advocates, attorneys and nurses. But insurers already have put up $37.3 million to oppose it. Proposition 46, which would raise the state's four-decade-old cap on medical-malpractice damages and require random drug testing for doctors, was put on the ballot by attorneys backing a Danville couple whose children were killed by a drugged driver. The medical and insurance sectors have put up $89.9 million so far to stop it.
6.) A surprisingly noncontentious ballot measure. Debates about water policy usually lead to the Golden State's most heated political battles. Yet the $7.5 billion bond measure now known as Proposition 1 passed the Legislature with only one dissenting vote and has the support of farmers and some environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council. The Sierra Club and some other groups say too much of the money will go to dams, but that will be a tough argument in the third year of a historic drought.
7.) Follow the money (if you can). California multimillionaires and billionaires are spending big. San Francisco resident Tom Steyer, a former hedge fund manager-turned-environmentalist, so far has anted up about $20 million of the $50 million he pledged toward swaying seven states' elections for governor and U.S. Senate. GOP benefactor Charles Munger Jr. of Palo Alto, a Stanford physicist whose father is Warren Buffett's business partner, has given at least $3.23 million to California candidates and committees, as well as $266,000 to federal candidates and committees across the nation. That's just what we know about -- it's safe to assume these rich Californians and others are giving a lot more in "dark money" that's hard or impossible to track.
8.) Register to vote. Register online at registertovote.ca.gov, or pick up an application at your county elections office, library, a Department of Motor Vehicles office or U.S. post office. To cast a ballot in this election, your registration must be postmarked or submitted electronically no later than Monday, Oct. 20 (unless you're a new citizen sworn in after that date).
9.) Vote. The official voter information guide goes out in the mail Thursday, Sept. 25, and vote-by-mail ballots follow starting Monday, Oct. 6. The last day to request a mail-in ballot is Tuesday, Oct. 28. And those ballots must be returned to your county registrar's office no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 4, when polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. State law requires employers to give workers two paid hours off at the start or end of a shift if there's no other time when they can go to vote. Workers should notify their employers in advance.