People sitting at a table in the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters office on Election Day
Santa Clara County election workers at the Register of Voters office on March 5, 2024. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Campaigns don’t always mean anything. A person could run a perfect campaign and still not beat a Zoe Lofgren, Nancy Pelosi, Ro Khanna or any number of current elected officials.

But sometimes a campaign makes a huge difference. This was never more true than in the primary race for U.S. Senate and the congressional race to replace the legendary Anna Eshoo.

Adam Schiff’s campaign for Senate was genius, as pointed out by Mark Z. Barabak in the Los Angeles Times. Schiff elevated Steve Garvey to second place in his ads so that his election in November is all but assured. Yes, something could happen, but the campaign strategy to make Garvey, a Republican, the No. 2 candidate means there will be no intra-party fight and Democratic resources can be moved to other states.

Katie Porter is self-righteously angry at the tactic, but as Barabak pointed out, elections are about winning within legal and certain moral bounds, not playing by an imaginary set of rules dictating kindness or sportsmanship. Porter fiercely objected when Schiff began featuring Garvey in his ads. Then, when Garvey began moving up in polls, Porter attempted the same tactic, promoting a lesser-known Republican, Eric Early, in hopes of splitting the GOP vote.

In the Congressional District 16 race, former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo ran a perfect primary race. With 11 candidates and three major contenders, the winner had to stand out. Liccardo using tactics such as his  “Let’s Get It Done” manifest and emotive TV commercials regarding guns were far different than the poll-driven messages of affordable housing, homelessness, women’s rights and anti-Trump rhetoric used by Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and the family friendly messages of Assemblymember Evan Low, which touted his progressive credentials.

In short, Liccardo stood out.

While Simitian was the prohibitive favorite, his traditional primary campaign was uninspiring. He had the war chest and the endorsement of outgoing Congresswoman Eshoo, but currently finds himself only two votes ahead of the surprising successful campaign of Low — as of this writing — and the race isn’t over. Simitian ran a campaign almost as an incumbent, he may have been saving his best for an expected two-way race. But like a 49er fourth quarter, he may have taken his foot off the gas too early.

Low, on the other hand, apparently sprinted at the end as his vote total has steadily increased after election night.

In an anomaly, there are still votes sent in without signatures that can be cured. Currently 525 ballots in San Mateo County and 700 ballots in Santa Clara County, in addition to 25 unprocessed conditional voter registration ballots.

Both campaigns are presumably seeking to “cure” votes they perceive as their supporters. Low will be attempting to get Asian surnames and younger voters, focusing on Santa Clara County. Simitian should be focusing on older voters from San Mateo and Palo Alto. The problem is neither can be completely sure the ballots they are harvesting are actually votes for them.

Talk of a possible recount is already underway due to the close ballot count. Any recount will take resources and time. Liccardo is not wasting time, picking up some congressional support nationally and already expanding his outreach, especially to rural areas of San Mateo.

The general election will be a new race. Turnout will be much larger. There is no question Simitian or Low will make this a real contest. Endorsements from Eshoo, Khanna, Lofgren and Jackie Speier will be paramount.

Low has always been a team player and will have help from labor, progressives, the LGBTQ+ community and Asian Americans. Simitian will have support from congressmembers and anti-Liccardo elements. Plus, he has a secret weapon: his wife Mary Hughes who is a seasoned political strategist in her own right.

Liccardo has name identification from being mayor of San Jose. He has major newspaper endorsements. All three candidates are considered pragmatic progressives. So any issue differences will be on the margins. The campaigns will focus on the individual character and personality differences of the contestants. All would serve the district well. How they run their campaigns, the messages, vehicles, targets and field operations will have a significant impact in November, as will independent expenditures. Don’t discount potential lies and misleading information and remember the source. Caveat emptor.

In the final analysis, only one candidate will win. But district voters can’t lose.

San José Spotlight columnist Rich Robinson is a political consultant, attorney and author of “The Shadow Candidate.” His columns appear every fourth Wednesday of the month.

Comment Policy (updated 5/10/2023): Readers are required to log in through a social media or email platform to confirm authenticity. We reserve the right to delete comments or ban users who engage in personal attacks, hate speech, excess profanity or make verifiably false statements. Comments are moderated and approved by admin.

Leave a Reply