Politics Professor is Confident that the 17th Assembly Seat Election will be a Close Race

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Elizabeth Silva
Staff Writer

The race for the 17th Assembly seat is heating up as the two democrats, David Chui and David Campos, run competitive campaigns.

“I find this race fascinating because I think it’s an interesting test of the top two primaries,” said Corey Cook,  an associate professor of politics at USF and the Director of the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service.

The 17th Assembly District contains parts of the eastern side of the city, including neighborhoods such as North Beach, the Financial District, the Castro, Potrero Hill, the Mission, and Bayview.

Voters previously voted in June for the top two candidates to be on the ballot next month, which are Chiu and Campos. Cook explained that California created the top two primary system to produce more moderate candidates and the idea was to have candidates from the same party run against each other.  There was the hope that if there are multiple democrats or republicans who are running against each other, then there would be crossover voting in which republicans might prefer a more moderate democrat to an extreme democrat and vice versa.

“Turns out, there is zero evidence that voters crossover, and the primary reason is that they do not know much about the candidates, which [is] a moderate [candidate] and which is an extreme [candidate] anyway, so voters tend to vote for their party irrespective of ideology,” said Cook. “The second thing that happened is that you have races like this one, which is a democratic district and two democrats running against each other. “

Both candidates are seen as progressive, but for San Francisco, Campos is running as a more progressive candidate than Chiu, Cook said. The theory would be that republican voters, who make up about 13-15% of the district, would vote for the more moderate candidate, which in this case, is Chiu.

A question that comes up is whether Republicans will decide to vote in the election or if they will decide to skip it, because no one from their party is on the ballot and “to a republican voter, Chiu and Campos seem pretty comparable,” said Cook.

Campos and Chiu vote very similarly, but have different priorities, according to Cook. Chiu will be more likely to favor development in terms of land use issues and will be likely to create compromises as he did with Airbnb, a website that allows people to rent rooms or homes to travelers, and in-law units. He will also be more likely to have a leadership position compared to Campos. Campos is considered more progressive and less likely to favor development. He is more likely to oppose topics such as Airbnb. He opposed the Twitter tax break, for example, and is more ideologically pure, said Cook.

Cook compared the two to Senator Mark Leno and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano. Chiu was considered similar and comparable to Leno and Campos was compared to Ammiano. Cook explained that both Leno and Ammiano work well in their roles. To vote on the election locally, it is more of a question as to which style works better and the candidate’s priorities.  Cook noted that either Chiu or Campos’s style works and they are going to vote very similarly on issues. “They’re [Chiu and Campos] going to vote for education funding. They’re going to vote very similarly on the issues—99% more or less—it’s just a question of what their priorities will be,” said Cook.

In the June primaries, Chiu was ahead by about four percentage points.  Voters who voted in June are very likely to vote similarly on the November ballot.

The ultimate two-part question that Cook asks is, “Will the Republican vote in the district outweigh the increase in turnout which is likely to help Campos, and [will the Republican vote outweigh] any sort of [disgruntled] progressives who might have voted for Chiu last time, but are angry [over his recent controversial positions on issues]?”

Cook is confident that it will be a close race. He guesses that it will be within five percentage points either way, but does not know how the points will fall.

This piece continues Professor Corey Cook’s November election insights from last week. 

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