North Bay Democrats Set to Square Off in 2016 State Senate Race
A California polling place. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP-Getty Images)
Assemblyman Bill Dodd, a Napa Democrat elected to the Legislature's lower house just last year, announced a run for the state Senate on Monday.
That sets up a race in the 3rd Senate District that could end up as one of the Bay Area's -- and the state's -- most competitive elections next year. Dodd will face off against the woman he replaced in the Assembly, Mariko Yamada, who was termed out last year. Republican Greg Coppes has also entered the race.
Dodd, a former Napa County supervisor, has served in the Assembly for seven months, but said the time is right to make the jump.
"I really believe I can be more effective for my constituents throughout the district in the Senate with a smaller body of 40 as opposed to 80," he said. "This is a seat that is termed out, and this is an opportunity that won’t come around for 12 years, and I think I’m ready."
The race mirrors many other local contests in the aftermath of California's shift to a top-two primary. While Dodd and Yamada are both Democrats, Dodd is similar in ideology to more moderate candidates recently elected in the Bay Area. David McCuan, professor of political science at Sonoma State University, said Dodd will try to follow the road map of recently elected "Chamber of Commerce" Democrats like Steve Glazer and Marc Levine.
"His entry into the race is notable not only because he's a newcomer," McCuan said. "But he's someone who can raise all of the money necessary and outspend almost all of his likely opponents on the Democratic side."
McCuan says Dodd's ability to bring in cash from business interests will force Yamada to pursue a more grass-roots approach.
"Her hope is to outhustle and really go to those core Democratic interest groups that are important in that district," he said.
The 3rd Senate District is centered on Napa, but it stretches east to Yolo County, where Yamada previously served as a supervisor. Unlike the Assembly seat that Dodd currently holds, the 3rd District also includes parts of Solano County.
Lois Wolk, who is endorsing Dodd as her replacement in the Senate, has represented the district since its creation in 2012 and is now termed out.
In his brief time in the Assembly, Dodd said, his signature issue has been taking on gender pay equity among state contractors. His AB1354 would require companies that do business with the state to file nondiscrimination reports.
Yamada will try and make her legislative experience at the state level a focus of her campaign.
"It takes some time to gather the kind of expertise, and have the challenges and tests that are required to represent a Senate district, or Assembly district," she said. "I believe we have that record."
During her three Assembly terms, Yamada was a champion for long-term care, serving as chair of the Assembly Aging and Long-Term Care Committee for five years. She says it's a focus that will continue if elected to the Senate.
"It’s not an issue that necessarily bubbles up to the top of every discussion," she said. "But with 20 percent of our state achieving the age of 65, in about 20 years, there will be a critical systems challenge that I’m not sure our state is well prepared for."
With two elected officials who know the area represented in the district, the Yamada-Dodd matchup is likely to remain close past June's primary into November.
Dodd is no stranger to close races. He survived a highly competitive June 2014 primary for his current Assembly seat, barely edging out fellow Democrats Dan Wolk and Joe Krovoza, both former mayors of Davis.
"I think that helped me a great deal," Dodd said. "That was a tough campaign, and I think it helped me understand the issues more broadly."
McCuan said it's too soon to rule out another crowded field.
"It probably is a very close race early between Dodd and Yamada, which is going to lead to other candidates jumping into the race," he said.
The primary for the race will be held on June 7, 2016.