Almanac

News - June 16, 2010

Election 2010: Gordon wins Democratic Assembly primary

by Gennady Sheyner and Sue Dremann

In a race in which all three candidates spoke often and forcefully about the need for reform in Sacramento, voters chose the candidate with the most experience in government over an outsider who had pledged to shake things up.

Rich Gordon, a 12-year San Mateo County supervisor, defeated entrepreneur Josh Becker and former Palo Alto City Council member Yoriko Kishimoto in the Democratic primary for the 21st Assembly District. Mr. Gordon appears poised to succeed Ira Ruskin in the 21st Assembly District, though he will face opposition in the general election this fall.

According to the latest state election returns, Mr. Gordon received 12,476 votes or 38.5 percent of the total; Mr. Becker received 10,925 votes or 33.6 percent of the total; and Ms. Kishimoto received 9,088 votes or 27.9 percent of the total.

Mr. Gordon took San Mateo County with 42.6 percent of the votes, versus 33.4 percent for Mr. Becker and 24 percent for Ms. Kishimoto.

The district covers northern Santa Clara County and southern San Mateo County, and includes The Almanac's entire circulation area.

At about 10 p.m. on election night, with his victory all but certain, Mr. Gordon gave an emotional speech to a crowd of cheering supporters at the Lucie Stern Community Center in Palo Alto, in which he acknowledged his early anxieties about the race. He trailed Mr. Becker in cash raised for most of the campaign, but finished with his strongest fundraising month, while picking up key endorsements from local officials, unions and newspapers along the way.

"When I started the race, I only knew what I wanted to accomplish," Mr. Gordon told his supporters. "But I had no clue, candidly, if I'd find people who would come with me.

"What has transpired has been amazing," he added, before hugging his husband, Dennis McShane, to a burst of applause.

Despite a wave of momentum in the final month of the campaign, Mr. Gordon's victory had been far from certain. Mr. Becker, a former Congressional aide, united a wide group of entrepreneurs, technologists and business executives behind his enthusiastic campaign, which focused largely on creation of clean-tech jobs.

But while Mr. Becker's campaign raised the most cash and made the most use of social media and technology, in the end old-fashioned name recognition won the election, Mr. Becker said. Mr. Gordon spent 12 years on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, while Ms. Kishimoto served on the Palo Alto City Council for eight years, including a stint as mayor in 2007, before terming out last year.

"One of the biggest challenges of the race was running against two politicians with high name IDs," Mr. Becker said. "It's a big district and you can't meet everyone.

"We felt the more people learned about us, the more they said they would vote for us," he said.

On Election Day, Mr. Becker's campaign headquarters on El Camino Real in Palo Alto was filled with supporters, including his parents, who flew in from Pennsylvania to walk precincts and staff phones in the last days of the race. He thanked everyone in attendance for their hard work.

Mr. Becker said he now plans to focus on his eight nonprofits and to work on behalf of clean-tech legislation, particularly Assembly Bill 32.

Ms. Kishimoto took her loss with equanimity and said she was proud of her "grassroots campaign." Despite being outspent by her two opponents, she kept the race close.

On election night, as Mr. Gordon's victory appeared increasingly likely, she reflected on her accomplishments.

"I've spent most of my time talking to voters, visiting farmers' markets and visiting families," Ms. Kishimoto said. "I'm very proud of what my campaign has done."

Mr. Gordon's victory means he will now be a heavy favorite in the November race against Republican Greg Conlon in the largely Democratic district. Mr. Ruskin, whom both men hope to succeed, will be termed out at the end of the year.

Greg Conlon

Mr. Conlon, an Atherton resident, ran unopposed for the Republican nomination. But that didn't prevent him from celebrating with about 50 friends, family members and supporters at a restaurant in Los Altos on election night. His campaign is just gearing up, he said; lawn signs are due to arrive next week.

Of the three candidates for the Democratic nomination, he always thought Mr. Gordon would be the toughest opponent, he said, because of his ability to raise money, and his support from labor unions. But Mr. Conlon said he hopes to ride the national anti-establishment wave, as well as general frustration among voters with California's state government, to victory.

"I only run to win," he said, adding that he takes issue with the assumption that races in the 21st Assembly District end in the Democratic primary. "I know what I'm up against."

Sean Howell contributed to this story.

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