Tuesday’s Vote Sets Up May Contest Between Torres and Leon In 32nd

(March 15) Democrat Assemblywoman Norma Torres and Paul Leon, the Republican mayor of Ontario, will square off in May to determine who will succeed Gloria Negrete-McLeod as state senator in California’s 32nd Senatorial District.
Torres and Leon fought to the top of the heap of six candidates in the Tuesday March 12 special election that was held because Negrete-McLeod, who was reelected to a four-year term in the state Senate in 2010, resigned that post to depart to Washington D.C. after she was elected to Congress in November.
Torres proved the top vote-getter with 13,295 votes or 43.6 percent throughout the district, which spreads into both Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. Leon polled 8,064 votes or 26.4 percent in both counties. Since no candidate captured a majority of the vote, a run-off will be held on May 14.
Democrat Larry Walker, the San Bernardino County treasurer-tax collector/auditor/controller, ran a distant third, with 4,232 votes in both counties or 13.9 percent.  Rialto School Board Member Joanne Gilbert, also a Democrat, received 2,134 votes, or seven percent. Pomona Planning Commissioner Ken Coble, a Republican, pulled in 1,989 votes, or 6.5 percent. Ontario City Councilman Paul Vincent Avila, a Democrat by registration who was disowned by his own party after he engaged in the highly unorthodox move of endorsing Leon, a Republican and his opponent in the race, brought in 785 votes in both counties, or 2.6 percent.
Torres had her best showing in Los Angeles County, where she was previously mayor of Pomona. According to the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters, she captured 2,925 votes there, or a whopping 57.02 percent. Leon captured 1,031 votes in Los Angeles County, or 20.1 percent.
Conversely, Leon had his strongest showing in San Bernardino County, though he still ran behind Torres. In San Bernardino County, Torres received 10,370 votes, or 40.88 percent. Leon captured 7,033 votes in his own county, or 27.72 percent.
The odds and circumstance would appear to favor Torres in the May 14 run-off. The 32nd District, which includes all of Pomona in Los Angeles County, and parts of San Bernardino County, including all of Bloomington, Fontana, Montclair, Muscoy, Ontario, and Rialto, and parts of Colton and San Bernardino, is a heavily Democrat-leaning jurisdiction, with 48 percent of its voters registered as Democrats and 28 percent registered Republican. On March 12, the four Democratic candidates – Torres, Walker, Gilbert and Avila – received 67 percent of the votes cast. The two Republicans – Leon and Coble – captured less than half of that at 33 percent.  Torres, who is a serving member of the state legislature, having been reelected to a third term in the Assembly in November, has a political fundraising advantage as well.
On March 13, she told the Sentinel, “I’m very happy with the results. We think we had a very good showing at the polls although the overall voter turnout was not as high as I would have preferred. We did our best to get out the vote. I am now looking toward moving and representing an even larger area.”
As for the May 14 showdown with Leon, Torres said “I’m very confident and not just because of the huge Democratic registration lead in the district but I am confident because of the number of votes I got this time around. If you look at the percentage by which I won, I outperformed both of the Republican candidates by a substantial number.“
Torres said that on one level moving up to the Senate “is going to be twice as much work as being in the Assembly” but that she welcomes the challenge. “I have already invested time in conducting polls and reaching out to the voters in the district, a part of which I have represented in the Assembly for a long time. There is a lot of work to do out there and I am anxious to start.”
Leon told the Sentinel, “I think we did quite well. We were able to get into the run-off without drawing on funding from throughout the state. My contributions came pretty much from local sources, friends, acquaintances who like what the campaign had to say, people who support my positions on the issues. We are now in the position we wanted to be in. We made it through the primary and have made it into the run-off. It’s the dawn of a new day and we’re ready to get going with the next phase of the campaign.”
Leon says he is unfazed by Torres’ relatively strong showing, which he said was in some measure an outgrowth of the million dollars she poured into the campaign. He said he would pound the pavement to “knock on doors” in making his pitch that he deserves to go to Sacramento to represent the people of the 32nd District. He said he would wage “a classic, standard campaign. We will raise money, put mail in people’s mailboxes, make phone calls, spread the message. We will maximize the funding we have by being smart with the money we collect.”
Leon said he believed he could overcome the Republican Party’s registration disadvantage in the 32nd District by “showing people can benefit from our philosophy and our approach to government. I think I will be seen as the better candidate if people look at what we have accomplished in the city of Ontario with balanced budgets, creating jobs by increasing economic opportunity, and reducing crime. My qualifications proceed me. I have built up the trust of people with what I have done in city government. I want to take that trust to the state level.”
The Republican Party has a stake in the outcome of the race in the 32nd Senatorial District, as last November the GOP suffered its worst electoral showing in California history. The Democrats, who already had the advantage of holding the governor’s position and majorities in both the Assembly and Senate, achieved supermajority status in both houses of the legislature, meaning the Democratic delegation in Sacramento can impose new taxing authority over the state’s businesses entirely without any Republican support. Electing Leon, an anti-tax, anti-regulation Republican who happens to be Hispanic, would represent an inroad into the Democratic domination of Sacramento politics, though it is unclear whether the Republican Party, which is still reeling from the loss in November, has the wherewithal to mount a well-financed campaign on Leon’s behalf to assist him in overcoming Torres’ apparent advantage.
The winner of the May 14 race will serve out the remainder of Negrete-McLeod’s Senate term, which expires in December 2014.

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