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With Visibility Comes Competition

Eric Swalwell attracts attention in his bid for reelection. Otherwise, it's a slow year for federal and state officeholders in the East Bay.

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Rep. Eric Swalwell's Q-rating is pretty high. A short-lived run for president, following three years of saturating cable TV news with barbs directed at President Trump, has brought the East Bay congressman great attention — and some might even say fame. But during this March's primary, the four-term incumbent's newfound notoriety will be both a positive and a negative. Now that more people know about Swalwell and his politics, a relatively large number of his constituents in 15th Congressional District filed to challenge him in the March primary.

Six people are running against Swalwell this March when the most who ever previously filed for his seat has been two. Among the field of no-name candidates are three Democrats, two Republicans, and one independent.

Democrat Tuan Phan is a second-generation Vietnamese-American chemist who moved to the East Bay from Texas and works as a chemist at an oil refinery in the North Bay. His campaign was inspired by the Bay Area's housing crisis and finding solutions to solve it. Challenger Austin Intal is perhaps the clearest Democratic alternative to Swalwell's progressive, but often establishment stances. On his campaign website, Intal calls for taxing the rich and protecting renters, in addition to Medicare for All and free college tuition. Democrat Sam Campbell is a Union City resident and activist. In terms of the number of issues she is pursuing, she's the race's Elizabeth Warren. Her campaign website lays out more than 40 issues — although few are spelled out in full Warrenesque detail — including transgender rights, water and food sustainability, and support for term limits.

Alison Hayden is the endorsed candidate of the Alameda County Republican Party and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Hayden believes in small government and civil liberties and wants to limit the "fiesta of fees and taxes" that states and the federal government impose through environmental regulations.

The rest of the field gets quite radical. Because the 15th Congressional District has consistently delivered between 25 and 30 percent of its vote to Republican candidates, the two conservatives — Hayden and Oakland resident Peter Liu — likely have an advantage when it comes to facing off against Swalwell in the top-two November election.

Liu, a perennial candidate who has run once for governor and twice for Oakland mayor, is a lightning rod for controversial and crass statements for some, and a 21st Century version of old-time comedian Pat Paulson, who ran several times for president, and enigmatic comedian Andy Kaufman. He routinely boasts about finishing 10th in the 25-candidate field for California governor in 2018. During his run second run for Oakland mayor, Liu advocated turning Lake Merritt into a public water park. It was never clear if he was serious or offering comedic satire. Nevertheless, his party designation alone could make him a favorite to finish second in the primary

Controversy also is attached to Don Grundmann, a perennial local candidate for just about every political office from the San Leandro school board to U.S. Senate. Unlike, Liu there is no playfulness in Grundmann's politics. In the past, he has vehemently opposed LGBT rights. In a candidate statement for his run for U.S. Senate in 2018, Grundmann wrote that the notion of transgender individuals does not exist. Instead he called the sexual orientation a "sickness."

Rep. Barbara Lee's bid for a 20th term representing Oakland and East Bay in Congress is far more sedate affair. In most of Lee's races over the past two decades, her campaign typically posts a few now-iconic green-and-gold "Barbara Lee speaks for me" signs and calls it an election. This March will be no different for the popular congresswoman whose support typically reaches 90 percent at the ballot box. It could be even higher this time around, as Republican Party registration in the 13th Congressional District veers closer to extinction levels, and Lee has recently been name-checked by various Democratic presidential candidates at several recent debates. Republican Nikka Piterman, a software engineer, is the latest conservative to challenge Lee. His platform includes tax cuts for all, splitting California into two states, statehood for Puerto Rico, and legalizing medical cannabis at the federal level.

At the state level, East Bay Assemblymembers Rob Bonta and Bill Quirk will seek re-election. Both were elected in 2012 when the state's new 12-year term limits cycle was first enacted.

In subsequent years, Bonta, who represents Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro, has risen to the top of the Democratic Party's leadership in the Assembly and has amassed a $2.4 million largesse in campaign contributions, according to finance reported filed last month. He likely will not need to spend much against underfunded Republican Stephen Slauson. This race is a rematch of the 2018 contest that Bonta easily won. During that race, Slauson, like Bonta, an Alameda resident, took a play out of Trump's playbook when he questioned whether Bonta was an American citizen.

Quirk, who represents Hayward and the Tri-Cities of Fremont, Newark and Union City, meanwhile, is facing three challengers. Each represents a different location on the political spectrum. Democrat Vipan Bajwa, a Union City accountant, said he will use his expertise to help craft a fiscally responsible budget. He also advocates for clean energy in the state and a fair criminal justice system. Labor organizer Alexis Villlalobos, also a Democrat, supports the Green New Deal and improving teacher pay and increased funding for schools. Republican Son Nguyen, the self-proclaimed "Assembly District 20's Favorite Son," supports an ambitious plan for building new housing, but without regulations such as the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). He's pro-business and opposes socialism and late-term abortions.

In the Richmond and West Contra Costa County 15th Assembly District, Buffy Wicks seeks re-election to her seat for the first time. Wicks faced a brutal primary two years ago before outlasting former Richmond Councilmember Jovanka Beckles in the November general election. This time around, Wicks will face fellow Democrat Sara Brink and Republican Jeanne Solnordal. Brink's campaign is notable for rough-honed rhetoric. Her campaign slogan is "Because you have no good options," a slight against Wicks. Brink's website goes further, calling Wicks a "Democratic Party operative whose campaign was primarily funded by wealthy out-of-district donors." Prior to running for the assembly, Wicks worked for candidate and President Barack Obama and for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. 

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