Jerry Hill and Sally Lieber cruised to victory at Tuesday's primary election and will now square off in November for a chance to represent a newly formed state Senate district in the heart of the Peninsula.
The two political veterans were widely expected to advance to the next round in a four-way race that also included Mountain View teacher Christopher Chiang and John Webster, a libertarian who has run several times in the past. Hill dominated the field with 51 percent of the votes. Lieber trailed in distant second with 22 percent.
Webster and Chiang earned 16 percent and 11 percent of the votes, respectively.
Hill, who has the biggest campaign chest and the longest list of supporters in the political establishment, trounced the competition Tuesday largely on the strength of his support in San Mateo County. Hill, who had served on the San Mateo City Council and on the county's Board of Supervisors before representing a large portion of the county in Sacramento, won 58 percent of the vote in his home county. Lieber picked up 18 percent of the vote in San Mateo County, which makes up the majority of the new District 13.
Hill also edged Lieber on her own turf, picking up 37 percent of the votes in Santa Clara County. Lieber finished with 30 percent.
District 13, which was formed last year during the redistricting process, includes most of San Mateo County and northern Santa Clara County, including Palo Alto and Mountain View. Most of the district is currently represented by state Sen. Joe Simitian, a former Palo Alto mayor who is termed out of Sacramento this year and who is seeking to return to his old spot on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.
Hill's and Lieber's victories Tuesday were all but assured given their fundraising advantages, their name recognition and the relatively low profiles of their two opponents. Each has more than $200,000 on hand heading into November and lengthy legislative resumes.
Hill currently serves in the state Assembly and represents a district that includes most of San Mateo County. He has emerged over the past two years as a leading critic of PG&E, whose gas line exploded in San Bruno in September 2010, killing eight people. The former San Mateo County supervisor has also been instrumental in warding off a San Francisco proposal to institute highway tolls and to restrict hiring for public-works projects to city residents.
Hill has also received more endorsements from about 400 elected officials and organizations. He has received more than $500,000 in campaign contributions since the beginning of the year. He currently has about $270,000 on hand, campaign records show.
Lieber has received more $230,000 in contributions since January (including $100,000 from her personal funds) and has about $213,000 in her campaign chest. So far this year, Hill had spent about $70,000 on his campaign, more than twice Lieber's expenditures.
Hours before the polls closed, Lieber acknowledged that defeating Hill in the primary would be tough given his heavier level of spending.
"It's definitely a David-versus-Goliath situation," Lieber told the Weekly shortly before the polls closed. "But we're cautiously optimistic."
Chiang and Webster were both running on a shoestring budget and had told the Weekly that they were planning to spend less than $1,000 for their campaigns.
The election results pave the way for a showdown between two experienced Democrats, one from the northern portion of the district and one from the southern. Lieber has served in the Assembly between 2002 and 2008 and earned a reputation as a scrappy defender of some of her most disadvantaged constituents, including homeless people and women in state prisons. She had authored a bill that raised the state's minimum wage and fought to keep homeless shelters open during rainy days.
Lieber tracked the election results in Reposado, a Palo Alto restaurant in which she gathered with a group of supporters. She told the Weekly that her goal so far has been merely to advance to the next round. Her campaign has been saving most of its resources for the November election, she said.
"Our goal has been to be in the runoff and to be able to save as much as possible," Lieber said. "All I asked for is a chance to campaign for the next five months."
Hill was more jubilant as he tracked the results with dozens of campaign staffers and supporters at his district headquarters in Redwood City. Hill said he was "gratified" by the early results, which showed him enjoying a commanding lead over the rest of the field. He attributed the strong results to his campaign's grassroots effort, his long list of endorsements and the messages of his campaign, which he said are resonating beyond his political base in San Mateo County.
"This shows that what we've been doing for the past five to six months is paying off," Hill told the Weekly.