Rep. Pete Stark's defeat by a young, insurgent Democrat marks the end of an era and perhaps the start of a cycle of internal party warfare.
Just as California's new top-two primary system let Dublin councilman and Alameda County prosecutor Eric Swalwell reach and win this general election against the dean of California's House delegation, so too is he likely to face a fellow Democrat's challenge in 2014.
It might be from Ro Khanna of Fremont, a former Obama administration official with a book on the stands, growing name recognition and $1.26 million banked for a campaign. Most of that was raised in one, record-breaking quarter, much of it from national Democratic benefactors who believe he's the right guy for the job.
Khanna, an attorney with a Silicon Valley firm, congratulated Swalwell for "a very impressive campaign" Wednesday but said he's proud to have backed Stark and hopes the coming weeks provide "a proper opportunity to reflect on his legacy and put his body of work in proper perspective." He looks forward to working on competitiveness and manufacturing issues, he said, but "one day after the election is not the time to speculate about what I'm going to do.
"People are sick of all the electioneering, and after a couple of months of reflection, I'll make a decision about what the next, best step is for me," Khanna said. "I have a committee open, I raised funds to run for the United States Congress, and at the right time, I will do that."
State Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, also opened a House campaign committee -- now with about $105,000 banked -- but in March committed to finishing her state term in 2014. "I would be honored to serve in Congress, but it's too early to discuss 2014," she said Wednesday.
Swalwell said Wednesday he hasn't time now to mull 2014; he'll attend the first of two weeklong House freshman orientations next week. "I'm focused on the monumental task before me now of getting a new congressional office set up, hiring a staff and going to Washington to build some relationships that can be a part of ending this gridlock."
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., called to congratulate him, he said, and they bonded as University of Maryland alumni.
"He's ready to work with me; he said he's looking forward to having me back there," Swalwell said, adding he's confident the next Congress' Democratic leaders will see that "what happened here was not as much about politics as it was about performance."
Stark, D-Fremont, issued a statement Wednesday saying he's honored to have served the East Bay for 40 years; he cited successes such as writing the COBRA health insurance portability law in 1985, "bringing the first computers to schools and crafting President Obama's groundbreaking health care law.
"I went to Washington by running against an unpopular war and for women's rights, opportunity for children and dignity for seniors. I leave knowing that the landscape has changed, but the needs of my constituents remain," he said, congratulating Swalwell on his victory. "I am happy to be of assistance in the future."
Campaign staffers said Stark was on an airplane Wednesday, unavailable for further comment.
For Stark, what went around came around: In 1972 he unseated an octogenarian incumbent Democrat whom he portrayed as out of touch with constituents and modern priorities, particularly regarding Vietnam. This year, Swalwell, 31, accused Stark, 80, of spending too much time at his Maryland home, missing too many votes and losing touch with the newly drawn 15th District's constituents.
Swalwell initially seemed like a long shot. But Stark in April accused him of accepting "hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes" from Dublin developers -- a charge Stark retracted and apologized for eight days later. This and other springtime gaffes by Stark bolstered Swalwell's bid.
Stark's campaign as of Oct. 17 had outspent Swalwell's almost 2 to 1. But as Stark spent a lot on direct mail and relied on local party and union troops to pound the pavement for him, Swalwell found a more targeted way to engage voters using Los Angeles-based NationBuilder's technology for organizing, fundraising, communications and get-out-the-vote efforts.