The newly created 5th Assembly District features one of those interesting political battles created under a revamped state election system.
In this case, two Republicans square off in November. Calaveras County businessman Rico Oller and Madera County Supervisor Frank Bigelow finished first and second, respectively, in the primary election to advance to the general election.
Who will win over the Democratic Party voters? Will Democrats see two Republicans and simply leave their ballots blank? How will Republicans feel if one of the candidates makes open appeals to the other side?
"The difference between (Bigelow and Oller) is not that great," said political analyst Tony Quinn, a former GOP legislative aide and co-editor of California Target Book, a nonpartisan analysis of legislative and congressional races. "No one is running on a Nancy Pelosi platform."
In fact, just about everyone agrees that both Bigelow and Oller probably would vote the same way in the Legislature 95% of the time.
It's the other 5% that could be the difference. It is pretty clear that Oller is sticking to the far right of the political spectrum, which led him to victory in the primary election, while Bigelow has staked out the political center.
Jon Fleischman, publisher of the FlashReport, a widely read conservative blog, said the race "looms large" as one of the few in the state "where the (no new) tax pledge is an issue."
In this case, Oller has signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge while Bigelow hasn't.
Bigelow said he won't "hide behind a piece of paper" that would tie his hands in the Legislature.
He said Oller is "trying to find a place to differentiate himself. He's used to playing partisan politics, and I am about going to fix this state and get jobs again."
To the unabashedly conservative Oller, the pledge issue is part of a larger portrait that shows differences between him and Bigelow.
"He's the guy who's going to vote for the tax increases," he said of Bigelow. "It's a very clear choice. I'm not going to change. I'm going to be who I am."
Oller already has a conservative reputation from two previous Assembly terms and a single four-year state Senate stint. Because he already has served two Assembly terms, Oller could only serve two more years before reaching his term limit.
In the primary, Oller was outspent by Bigelow, but captured almost 34% of the vote to win. Bigelow finished second in the six-person field with almost 29% of the vote. In real numbers, the differential was 5,089 votes. There were 102,287 total votes cast in the June election.
But in November, turnout is expected to be much higher, and two Democrats who together won more than 31,000 votes -- more than Bigelow -- are out of the race.
Quinn, the political analyst, said a Republican who wants Democratic voter support must give a reason for that support. If not, many Democrats will leave their ballots blank in this race "unless somebody encourages you to vote."
There are 231,379 registered voters in the district -- which sprawls across both sides of the Sierra, touching all or parts of nine counties from Madera north to Placer -- and 43% are Republican, 32% are Democrat.
Oller is confident he can win not only with core Republican voters, but with the smattering of American Independent and Libertarian Party members, as well as a good chunk of the almost 19% of voters who are not affiliated with a political party.
"He's got a far harder job ahead of him than I do ahead of me," Oller said of Bigelow. "He's going to have to give Democrats a reason to vote for him, and as he does that he's going to lose Republican support. There's going to be a lot of buyer's remorse. There already is."
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