Cortese takes an early lead in Silicon Valley Senate District 15 race

Dave Cortese is emerging as the front runner in the tight race to represent California's Senate District 15 and replace term-limed state Sen. Jim Beall.

Early results Tuesday show Cortese leading in the seven-person race with 33 percent of the vote, followed by Ann Ravel who earned nearly 20 percent of the vote as of midnight with with 92 percent of precincts reporting. The pair are running against San Jose Councilmember Johnny Khamis, paratransit operator Tim Gildersleeve, Army Staff Sgt. Ken Del Valle and mechanical equipment manufacturer Robert Howell. Former California Assemblymember Nora Campos, is in third place with 16 percent of the vote.

“I'm very excited about going to Sacramento, but this is just round one,” Cortese said Tuesday night. “It's sort of like a tournament, so we now have to run top-two and try to win the championship round. We'll see who our opponent is, second and third place are pretty close together right now.”

Dave Cortese has long served as a Santa Clara County supervisor, sitting on multiple transportation boards and committees, including the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, Metropolitan Transportation Commission, National Association of Counties Transportation Steering Committee as well as the Association of Bay Area Governments.

The 63-year-old Democrat from San Jose has built his campaign around funding public safety, promoting equal pay and living wage, expanding education to support teachers and students and ensuring that everyone can afford health care.

That platform attracted endorsements from the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, the California School Employees Association as well as local teachers associations, the California Democratic Party and the South Bay Labor Council.

Cortese has raised more than $1 million for his campaign, according to campaign filings.

“We've worked hard to elect Dave Cortese and he's in a strong position to run for state senate in the Fall,” Ben Field, executive director of the South Bay Labor Council said Tuesday night. Field said he was “extremely happy” with how the results of the South Bay elections were shaping up across the board.

Ann Ravel is an attorney with experience throughout both local and federal government. She served as the Santa Clara County counsel for more than a decade before becoming the deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice and was a former Federal Election Commission Chair.

Ravel, 70, built a campaign focused on protections for renters and creating homes and shelters, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, fighting global warming, raising teacher pay and making community college free.

Her endorsements include the Consumer Attorneys of California, NARAL Pro-Choice California and the Northern California Carpenters Regional Council. Many mayors, councilmembers, county supervisors and school board members also support Ravel.

Ravel's campaign has raised about $740,000, according to campaign filings. On Tuesday night she said she felt “great” about the results so far.

“I think it's a testament to the fact that I have amazing supporters and people who worked really hard,” she said. “We did a lot of going door-to-door and talking to people. I spent hours in people's houses talking about issues. I think talking to people and being concerned about what they care about is important and that made a difference for me.”

District 15 stretches across the South Bay, encompassing Campbell, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Saratoga and much of San Jose.

“These are big districts with a lot of people,” said Garrick Percival, a San Jose State University political science professor. “(Cortese) has big networks, supportive labor unions and he declared his candidacy early, so that gives him more time to fundraise.”

Percival also estimated that Khamis, the lone independent in the race, had a good chance at remaining past Tuesday's primary.

“The other candidates are strong Democrats, so Khamis, I think, has a good chance to get into the top two, which is a little surprising considering they are replacing one of the more liberal members of the state senate,” he said. “Political independents and republicans feel someone like Johnny Khamis gives them someone to get excited about.”

That was Khamis' hope, he said in an interview Tuesday night at his election night party.

“It’s not necessarily a strategy, so much as it’s me and my career in office,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been about all along and I’m not going to change regardless of what epitaph is next to my name, whether it is a ‘D' or an ‘R.'”

As for Beall, D-San Jose, he hasn't announced his plans for after he leaves office, but he's confirmed rumors that he'd consider a run at San Jose mayor, the Silicon Valley Business Journal reported this year. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo will finish his second term in 2022.

If the results are tight, as this one has been, Percival warned it could be weeks before the two winners are announced, because Californians can register and mail in their ballots on Election Day. In this primary, which will whittle the contenders for the District 15 seat from seven to two, overall voter turnout will be a big factor in who continues on, he added.

“Generally, primary elections have pretty low turnouts but ... the higher percentage of people who vote, the electorate starts to look more like a general election … and that tends to be younger and more racially diverse and, at least in this area, that tends to skew more liberal,” he said.

This story is developing and will be updated.

Contact Janice Bitters at [email protected] or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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