Nine In Scrappy Fight To Succeed Torres in the 52nd Assembly District

(July 19) Nine candidates will face off next Tuesday in the special election to  replace Norma Torres as the legislator representing  Chino, Pomona, Montclair, Ontario and a portion of Fontana in the California Assembly, making it highly likely that a run-off will be necessary. If no single candidate captures a majority of the vote on Tuesday, then the two top vote-getters will slug it out in September. Seven of the nine candidates are Democrats. One is a Republican and the other is a newly independent who dropped his party affiliation with the Republicans just two months ago.
Four of the candidates – Ontario Mayor Paul Leon, Pomona councilman Freddie Rodriguez, Chino councilman Tom Haughey and Ontario Councilman Paul Vincent Avila – have succeeded in distinguishing themselves from the pack by means of endorsements or aggressive campaigning so far. Another,. Dorothy Pineda, the sole registered Republican in the race, is calculating she can move to capture a run-off berth on the basis of partisan appeal., even though Republicans are outnumbered in the district overall.
The race was necessitated by a chain of events, beginning with former state senator Gloria Negrete-McLeod’s unexpected victory over incumbent Congressman Joe Baca in November. Negrete-McLeod had to resign from her 32nd state Senatorial position to depart from Sacramento to Washington, D.C., with two years remaining on her term.
A vote to see who would succeed her was held in March, which attracted six candidates, including Torres, the assemblywoman in the 52nd District who had just been elected to a third term in November herself: Leon, who at that point was one of two Republicans in the race; and Avila. In March, Torres proved the frontrunner, but did not garner a majority of the vote. Leon finished second, qualifying for the May run-off against Torres. Ultimately, Torres prevailed. Like Newgrete-McLeod, she was at that point obliged to resign the position she held to take on her new elected post.
Leon carries with him into the state Senate race the momentum and name familiarity from the March and May campaigns, putting him a leg up on much of the competition. Ultimately, his electoral bid failed in May in large measure because of his party affiliation. Leon campaigned forthrightly at that time as a pro-economic development, anti-regulation Republican. This ploy proved successful in the March race. With some backing from the Republican Party – over $365,000 in political donations having made their way into his electioneering coffers – Leon was able to mount a serious campaign in a district wherein voter registration favored Democrats over Republicans  47 percent to 28 percent. Only Ken Coble of the other candidates was Republican. All four others – Torres, Avila, county treasurer Larry Walker and Rialto School Board Member Joanne Gilbert  were Democrats. Coble received no GOP support to speak of. In fact, Republicans had pressured him to get out of the race to enable Leon to maximize partisan support. As it turned out, Walker, Avila and Gilbert cut into the Democratic base Torres was relying upon, and in March she captured 13,295 votes, or 43.6 percent, not enough to win at that point outright. In May, with the Democrats united behind her, she cruised to a comfortable 19,666 votes, or 59.39 percent to 13,445, or 40.6 percent victory over Leon.
In the 52nd Assembly District, which overlaps with much of the 32nd State Senatorial District, the Democrats hold a registration advantage over the Republicans, although it is not as stark of an edge, being 16 points higher rather than 19. Nevertheless, Leon moved to reregister himself as unaffiliated with any party just before he signed on to run in the 52nd District. His strategists are hoping he can springboard off his name recognition from the last two contests, maintain his appeal with Republicans throughout the district and make sufficient inroads with Democrats through the projection of a non-partisan approach to governance in Sacramento. So far, Leon has spent over $200,000 in the 52nd District race. Nearly all of that has come from Republicans, including a $9,000 contribution from the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee.
Some of the more passionate Leon supporters believe that he can win the election outright by capturing all, or nearly all of the Republican vote while drawing in as much as a third of the Democratic vote and simultaneously appealing to unaligned voters.
A weak link in this strategy is that Pineda, the only candidate officially affiliated with the Republican Party, is gunning for as many GOP votes as she can get. Moreover, Democrats are wary of Leon, and several unions, particularly the California Teachers Association, is spending money to print mailers and fliers attacking Leon.
The Democrats appear to be coalescing behind Rodriguez. One of his key endorsements is that of Torres. Before stepping up to the state legislature, Torres was Pomona mayor.
On June 11, Torres endorsed Rodriguez, calling upon her supporters in the district and all Democrats to line up behind him to prevent Leon, whom she characterized as a Republican wolf in non-partisan clothing, from utilizing his newly non-declared status to trick the district’s electorate.  Democrats should keep a collective eye on the ball, Torres said.
“Freddie has already built an impressive coalition behind his campaign that includes the California Democratic Party, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and scores of local leaders, state legislators, small business owners, and community leaders — a testament to the strong and deep support behind his campaign,” Torres said. She then made a pitch to the voters in Pomona.
“Like me, Freddie has deep roots in our community, is a public safety professional, and has an outstanding track record of building coalitions to deliver results for the people he serves as a city council member,” Torres said.
In the span of just four days, the California Democratic Party last month pumped $52,000 into the Rodriguez  campaign.
The dark horse in the race is Avila, who has been a perennial candidate for state and local offices for the last two decades, garnering name recognition as he has gone on, along with election to two positions, first as a school board member in the Ontario-Montclair School District and then to the Ontario City Council last year. He is actually making his second run in the 52nd. Last year, he ran in the primary, managing to capture 3,417 votes, or 13.2%. During the 32nd Senatorial District run, he turned strategy on its head, announcing more than a month before the election and after his name was committed to appearing on the ballot that he was supporting Leon. This prompted expulsion threats from the Democratic Party. Immediately upon Torres’ victory in May, Avila announced that he would seek Torres’ newly vacant Assembly seat. He threw in a caveat, however, saying he would withdraw if Leon stepped up to run.  Avila has not withdrawn, though, and is actually running one of the more spirited sign campaigns in the race, effective and visible red and yellow placards and yard postings that tout him as a “Valiant Vietnam Veteran.”
Haughey has parlayed his position on the Chino City Council into what he hopes will be a viable appeal to voters. He has picked up the endorsements of both the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and the Chino Champion, two of the widest circulating publications in the 52nd District.
Others beside Leon, Rodriquez, Avila, Haughey and Pineda in the race are Jason Rothman, a school board member and the son of the Pomona mayor, Manuel Saucedo, a consultant who has garnered the endorsement of Joe Baca; Danielle Soto a a public information specialist who has been endorsed by Gloria Negrete-McLeod and Doris Louise Wallace, a union organizer.

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