Former Mayor Sam Liccardo, California State Assemblymember Evan Low and Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian are pictured in a collage photo
Former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and State Assemblymember Evan Low are headed to a November runoff, with a recount bumping Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian from the race for Congressional District 16.

The race to replace Rep. Anna Eshoo is one of the most contested and closely watched elections of the season. With less than 50 days before voting begins, the district’s demographics may show which candidates have an advantage.

Since Eshoo announced her retirement in November, more than a dozen politicos jumped at the once in a generation opportunity to represent Silicon Valley in Congress. Some have prepared for this moment for years, while others pulled together a campaign within days to begin competing in the March 5 primary. With a short time to fundraise and campaign, political observers and consultants say name recognition and money on hand are vital.

Candidates include:

  • Ahmed Mostafa, tech policy expert and woman’s rights attorney, Democrat
  • Evan Low, state Assemblymember District 26, Democrat
  • Greg Tanaka, Palo Alto councilmember, Democrat
  • Joby Bernstein, climate investor, Democrat
  • Joe Simitian, Santa Clara County supervisor, Democrat
  • Julie Lythcott-Haims, Palo Alto councilmember, Democrat
  • Karl Ryan, member of the Santa Clara County Republican Party Central Committee, Republican
  • Nickesh Viswanathan, Saratoga resident, Independent
  • Peter Dixon, marine veteran, Democrat
  • Peter Ohtaki, former Menlo Park mayor, Republican
  • Richard Fox, retired pediatrician and attorney, listed Republican in former races but now no party preference listed
  • Rishi Kumar, former Saratoga councilmember, Democrat
  • Sam Liccardo, former San Jose mayor, Democrat

 

The electorate of California’s 16th congressional district, which encompasses a large swath of Santa Clara County and San Mateo County, is older, wealthier and whiter, according to data analysis of voter files from the Secretary of State by Brian Parvizshahi, founder of political consulting firm Axial Media and Communications. Parvizshahi managed Rep. Ro Khanna’s successful congressional campaign to unseat former Congressmember Mike Honda in 2016, as well as Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez’s unsuccessful bid for San Jose mayor last year, among other South Bay campaigns.

Parvizshahi said based on the number of voters in previous primaries, about 215,000-240,000 people are expected to cast a vote for this seat in the primary elections. Of those likely voters, about 68% are white and 67% are over the age of 50. There is a notable Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) population—making up about 22% of likely voters.

Political observers say those demographics reflect that former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and Assemblymember Evan Low will be the front runners.

“They all have been elected to office, they all carry name recognition and they all have the financial backing to really pull it out,” Parvizshahi told San José Spotlight.

He said Liccardo may have the most name recognition and inroads with tech, which is critical to this Silicon Valley seat. Simitian has been serving in the district for decades and stepped up during the pandemic. Low has successfully built up a massive political machine behind him—and the 22% of AAPI voters gives him a significant advantage.

“This is a huge opportunity for him to capitalize on,” Parvizshahi said. “Typically AAPI voters would like to see AAPI representation…  unlike (white voters) who will be supportive of Caucasian candidates, but not 100%. They are not a monolithic group.”

That doesn’t mean other candidates don’t have a shot. Parvizshahi said as the only woman in the race, Palo Alto Councilmember Julie Lythcott-Haims has a strong argument to keep the seat in the hands of a woman. Palo Alto will also make up the second largest number of voters by city in the primary election—10% of likely voters.

San Jose, the largest city in Silicon Valley, makes up a third of likely voters.

Larry Gerston, longtime political observer and political science professor emeritus at San Jose State University, said Simitian, Low and Liccardo have the most name recognition. The also appear to have some of the largest campaign donations, with hundreds of thousands of dollars to get their names out there.

Liccardo has already exceeded $1.1 million in donations as of Dec. 19, according to his campaign. Simitian slowly built up more than $680,000 over the past few years. Low snagged $300,000 within 48 hours of announcing his candidacy.

“It’s a very liberal district. Voters are looking for somebody who’s pro choice, pro gay rights, universal health care—all the kinds of things that good progressive, liberal, progressive Democrats believe in,” Gerston told San José Spotlight. “(Liccardo’s) politics are more centrist and I don’t know that he would have quite the fit.”

But Parvizshahi disagreed. Most of the district’s likely voters are registered democrats—at 58%—but 17% of the electorate is republican and 21% is independent. He said for that reason, a candidate who is fiscally moderate can appeal to independents.

“You have to have those conversations about not wasting tax dollars because people across the Bay Area are struggling with the high cost of living, inflation and job security,” Parvizshadi said. “And you need to drive in those issues in this short about of time.”

Contact Jana at [email protected] or follow @Jana_Kadah on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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