Destination 270

SMU Students Analyze the 2012 Presidential Election

If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It? 39-Year Incumbent Finally Being Challenged

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For the past 39 years, California’s 15th Congressional District has been represented in the U.S. House of Representatives by 81-year-old Pete Stark. And for these past years, he has gone mostly unchallenged until this year.

This year, Eric Swalwell is running against Stark. Swalwell is a Dublin councilman and Alameda County prosecutor. What makes this race interesting is that this 39-year Democratic incumbent is being challenged by another Democrat.

Due to American’s standard view of elections being Republicans versus Democrats, it seems odd at first glance that two representatives from the same party can be running against each other. Thanks for a new primary system in California, the top two vote getters advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. The new primary system, coupled with California’s adoption of nonpartisan redistricting, is causing upheaval in the nation’s largest and most influential Congressional delegation.


 “I wouldn’t have had a chance before,” Mr. Swalwell said regarding running before this new primary system was enacted.

When you’re a Democrat, the decision of who to vote for is easy in a traditional Republican versus Democrat race. But when both candidates are Democrats, voters have to actually consider what distinguishes each candidate’s platform. Or as recent local articles have suggested, if it’s time to replace the old with something new. But other’s are saying, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

Stark is running on his record while also saying there is much more to be done, but Swalwell says that it’s time for new blood.

Stark was passed over for the House Ways and Means Committee chairmanship in 2010 though he was next in seniority. The unspoken reason: his volatile nature. He has grabbed attention with head-scratching comments, such as calling former Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) a “whore for the insurance industry.” And a 2010 report from the Office of Congressional Ethics called Stark “extremely belligerent” who “frequently insulted” the office’s investigators who were examining whether he had applied for a homestead tax exemption in Maryland when his official home was in California.

Swalwell correctly forsaw that Stark’s well-known thin skin and sharp tongue might do some of his work for him. After months of relentlessly baiting Stark by painting him as an out-of-touch politician who lives mostly in Maryland and has missed too many House votes, Swalwell still looked stunned at a candidates’ forum last April in Hayward, where Stark accused him of taking “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes” for Dublin land-use votes. It wasn’t true, and it took Stark more than a week to admit it. But even then, he made other accusations against Swalwell that he was later forced to retract. In the following weeks, he would goof up his facts during meetings with newspaper editorial boards.

Yet Stark since the primary has refused to meet Swalwell for more debates. He posts Web videos and sometimes shows up to rally campaign volunteers, but mostly he’s lying low and letting his incumbency, and a reservoir of affection he’s built up among local liberals, do the heavy lifting. While Swalwell continues to attack his opponents record, by posting images such as these on his website:



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