Assemblyman Sandre Swanson sounds like he's ready to challenge incumbent state Sen. Loni Hancock in 2012, a showdown between like-minded, labor-friendly, liberal Democrats that could reverberate through California government as supporters take sides.
Senate Democratic leaders are trying to dissuade Swanson, D-Alameda, from seeking the seat when he's term-limited out of the Assembly next year: They commissioned and released a poll showing Hancock, D-Berkeley, trouncing Swanson in the newly drawn 9th State Senate District.
Swanson doesn't sound dissuaded.
"I've talked to my wife, and obviously I'm seriously considering this run," he said late Thursday after reviewing the poll. "I am approaching a final decision, and I'll be making an announcement about my plans within the coming weeks."
Yet he sounds as if he has made a decision already.
"I've been involved in politics for almost four decades, so I don't panic very easily, and I keep my eye on the main agenda. And the agenda in any campaign would have to be the pain Californians are facing, the insecurity that those with disabilities and (those) relying on the safety net are feeling, the pain of those losing their homes right now. ... This is the campaign I would run," he said. "The last thing I would do is concentrate on personality. Whatever I do, it would be a race about issues."
The poll shows 44 percent of the district's likely voters support Hancock, 18 percent support Swanson, 8 percent support other candidates and 31 percent are unsure. Goodwin Simon Strategic Research conducted the telephone survey of 402 likely voters Sept. 24 through Sept. 27; the margin of error is 5 percentage points.
The poll shows Hancock leading Swanson among: voters of all parties; in both Alameda and Contra Costa counties; by 10 points in the city of Oakland; and among black, white, Latino and mixed-race voters. "Hancock should win this race fairly easily," pollster Paul Goodwin wrote in his memo. "It would be very difficult for Swanson to catch up to her."
Swanson said aggressive campaigning and a clear message can overcome bad numbers.
Asked about the poll and Swanson's comments, Hancock released a statement Friday mentioning neither. "I am grateful that my constituents are happy with the work we are doing together. I am excited about running for re-election and continuing this work."
Swanson filed papers to seek the 9th District seat and began fundraising early this year, but at the time said no final decision could be made until after redistricting, which has since been completed.
Both live within the 9th District before and after the new lines, yet the district has changed markedly around them. It used to start with Albany and Berkeley at the north end, sweep down through Oakland and Alameda and then out through Castro Valley to grab Dublin and Livermore. Now, it starts in Rodeo and includes all the Western Contra Costa County cities as well as Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland, Piedmont and San Leandro -- a more compact, more urban district.
And next June's will be California's first regular primary election using the "top two" system, in which candidates of all parties compete on the same ballot and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, advance to the general election. Given the district's overwhelmingly Democratic registration, it's easy to imagine two Democrats being the only options on the district's November 2012 ballot.
The "Swanson for Senate 2012" committee had $61,197.48 in the bank as of June 30, and there's no record of any big-ticket contributions reported since then. Hancock's 2012 re-election campaign committee had $66,964.12 in the bank as of June 30, but she raised at least $13,600 since then -- half from the State Building and Construction Trades Council, and half from state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's campaign committee.
MapLight.org, a Berkeley-based nonprofit that analyzes the impact of money in politics, reports the top three interests funding Hancock's campaigns are general trade unions, lawyers and lobbyists, and public sector unions; Swanson's are general trade unions, public sector unions and telecommunications.
The 2012 election is shaping up to bring a faceoff between like-minded, labor-friendly, liberal Democrats.
Loni Hancock, 71,
Experience: 9th State Senate District, 2008-present; chairwoman of Public Safety Committee; 14th Assembly District, 2002-2008; head of the U.S. Department of Education's Western Regional Office, 1994-2001; Berkeley mayor, 1986-1994; Berkeley City Council, 1971-1979.
Education: Bachelor of arts, English/liberal arts, Ithaca College; master's degree in social psychology, Wright Institute.
Personal: Married to Berkeley mayor and former Assemblyman Tom Bates; two children, two stepchildren, seven grandchildren
Sandre Swanson, 62,
Experience: 16th Assembly District, 2006-present; chairman of Labor and Employment Committee; chief of staff to Rep. Barbara Lee, 1998-2004; district director/senior policy adviser to Rep. Ron Dellums,
Education: Bachelor of science, psychology, San Francisco State University.
Personal: Married to AAA insurance sales specialist Anita Swanson; four children, four grandchildren.