State Senate

Hot Races

The general election for the California Senate will take place on Nov. 8, 2022. Voters in the 20 even-numbered districts will elect a senator to represent them.

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District 4

The district

This sprawling district takes in much of the Sierra, running from Owen’s Lake to Lake Tahoe before jutting west across the Central Valley to rope in Modesto and the rest of Stanislaus County.

Voter registration: 38.1% Republican, 34.7% Democratic, 19.2% no party preference

The scoop

Primary results: Tim Robertson 22.1%, Marie Alvarado-Gil 18.7%

Fair to say, this is not the general election showdown that voters here were expecting. 

After being drawn outside this new solidly Republican district, state Sen. Andreas Borgeas, who represents most of the area, decided not to run, leaving open the door for Republican hopefuls. Evidently, the primary got a little too crowded. The GOP candidates split the right-of-center vote — which added up to nearly 60% of all ballots cast — into six bit-sized slivers. Thanks to California’s all-party primary system, two long-shot Democrats snuck into first and second place

So a district where most voters would prefer to elect a Republican is certain to elect a Democrat. The question is, which one? 

The choice should be familiar to voters in Democratic strongholds: A labor favorite against a relative moderate. Robertson, executive director of the North Valley Labor Federation, is the former. He also had the backing of the state Democratic Party.

Alvarado-Gil, a charter school administrator, snagged the second spot despite a shoe-string campaign and little name recognition. But touting her skepticism of “government overreach” and describing herself as a moderate, she may be well positioned to appeal to the district’s conservative-leaning voters. That’s assuming businesses, charter advocates and other defenders of centrist Democrats ride to her financial rescue. 

Robertson has clearly done his own political recalculation. Since the June primary, his campaign has shifted from emphasizing his strong ties to working people to his willingness to work with anyone, “regardless of party.” 

Applicants

  • Democratic
  • Republican
  • American Independent
  • Green
  • Libertarian
  • Peace & Freedom
  • No Party
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Key Endorsements

Marie Alvarado-Gil

  • California Chamber of Commerce
  • California Charter Schools Association Advocates
  • Assemblymember Blanca Rubio
  • California Democratic Legislative Women’s Caucus

Tim Robertson

  • California Democratic Party
  • Rep. Josh Harder
  • California Teachers Association
  • SEIU California
  • California Labor Federation
  • Equality California

District 6

The district

This suburban capital-area district covers parts of Sacramento and Placer counties, including the cities of Lincoln, Rocklin, Roseville and Folsom, stretching south towards Gait. It also includes a portion of the Eastern Sierra. This purple-ish district is home to large Slavic and Afghan immigrant communities. 

Voter registration: 35.5% Democratic, 36.0% Republican, 20.4% no party preference

The scoop

Primary results: Paula Villescaz 43.1%, Roger Niello 42.8%

Incumbent Republican Jim Nielsen has reached his term limit. The open seat, plus the population growth that has largely bulked up Democratic voter registration makes this race more competitive.

The top vote-getter in the primary was Democrat Villescaz, a San Juan Unified School District board member and a political newcomer. The first college graduate in her family and a cancer survivor, Villescaz has been active in Democratic politics since her days at UC Berkeley. 

She’ll have to beat Niello, a former Assemblymember who lost a state Senate bid in 2010, but now hopes to return to the Legislature. In 2009, Niello was one of six Republicans who joined Democrats and then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to back tax increases to balance the budget during the height of the Great Recession – a “fiscally necessary but politically perilous” move. That earned him a furious rebuke from his own party and from other conservative activists. Since 2010 – in addition to running his longtime auto dealership group, which has helped put his name on the backs of cars across the region – Niello served as president and CEO of the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce. 

Villescaz hopes to win by pointing out Niello’s anti-abortion, pro-gun rights stances. But she’ll have to contend with Niello’s campaign warchest: He led the field in fundraising during the primary, taking in $519,000. Villescaz raised $272,000.

Applicants

  • Democratic
  • Republican
  • American Independent
  • Green
  • Libertarian
  • Peace & Freedom
  • No Party
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Key Endorsements

Roger Niello

  • California Republican Party
  • Crime Victims United

Paula Villescaz

  • California Democratic Party
  • California Labor Federation​
  • Emily’s List
  • Equality California

District 8

The district

This Democratic stronghold has taken on supersized importance in California political circles, if only because of the mailers that bombarded Sacramento-area legislative staff and lobbyists during a rather vicious intra-party primary. Starting just north of the Sacramento International Airport, this district stretches down through the capital towards Elk Grove. 

Voter registration: 51.6% Democratic, 19.0% Republican, 22.2% no party preference

The scoop

Primary results: Dave Jones 46.0%, Angelique Ashby 41.0% 

Democrats Jones and Ashby were the clear front-runners in the primary for this open seat, but it still became a high-stakes race — and eye-poppingly expensive with heavy spending by interest groups. Now it’s time for the second and final showdown.

Jones is a known presence in California politics: After serving on the Sacramento City Council, he was elected to the state Assembly in 2004 and then as insurance commissioner in 2011. He championed an unsuccessful ballot measure that would have given that office the right to regulate health insurance premiums. Though his bid for attorney general in 2018 was unsuccessful, Jones has built strong connections to the powers that be within the Democratic Party — organized labor, environmental activists and consumer rights advocates.

Ashby may not have statewide name recognition, but she’s a familiar face in local politics as a Sacramento City Councilmember and current vice mayor. She also started a consulting firm focused on creating transition programs that help parolees, foster youth and incarcerated women. And she promotes her personal story of a single mom who put herself through college and law school. 

Though both candidates are mainstream Democrats, Jones has some more progressive positions, backing a bill that would push California toward adopting a single-payer health insurance system, for example. Ashby says she hopes to follow the more moderate path of outgoing Sen. Richard Pan, who endorsed her.

That ideological split has attracted millions of dollars in outside spending, transforming this legislative race into a proxy battle between environmental, labor and progressive activists backing Jones and police and firefighter unions, charter school advocates and the pharmaceutical industry supporting Ashby.

Another layer of drama in this already hot race: Jones successfully sued the Secretary of State’s office and Ashby to remove her ballot designation as a “women’s advocate.” Ashby, who is trying to become the first woman elected to the Legislature from Sacramento County in 20 years, responded that she just wants to be called “senator.” 

Applicants

  • Democratic
  • Republican
  • American Independent
  • Green
  • Libertarian
  • Peace & Freedom
  • No Party
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Key Endorsements

Angelique Ashby

  • Sen. Richard Pan
  • Assemblymember Jim Cooper
  • EMILY’s List

Dave Jones

  • California Democratic Party
  • California Environmental Voters
  • U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla
  • California Teachers Association
  • Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon

District 10

The district

From Hayward to just north of San Jose, this eastern Bay Area district spans parts of both Alameda and Santa Clara counties. The outside world may define the district by the industries it hosts; it includes a Tesla plant and part of Silicon Valley. It’s also home to some of California’s largest Asian immigrant communities, and the biggest Afghan population outside of Afghanistan. 

Voter registration: 52.5% Democratic, 29.3% no party preference, 14.0% Republican 

The scoop

Primary results: Lily Mei 33.1%, Aisha Wahab 30.0%

Though the primary was crowded, the attention — and the outside spending — was always focused on two candidates. Wahab, the Democratic party’s pick and a progressive darling, now faces off with Mei, the mayor of Fremont, for an open seat being vacated by term-limited Bob Wieckowski.

Mei’s backers include an ideological mixed bag: Sam Liccardo, the San Jose mayor and pension reform advocate, but also Ro Khanna, one of the more outspoken progressives in California’s congressional delegation. Mei, herself, is running a largely non-ideological campaign, touting her nuts-and-bolts accomplishments in city governance. But there’s been no confusion among outside spending groups as to where Mei stands ideologically compared to Wahab. She has been a massive beneficiary of business groups and other familiar forces of moderate Democrats.

Wahab, who is seeking to become the first Afghan woman elected to state office in California, hails from the north end of the district as a Hayward city councilmember. As the Democratic Party pick with closer ties to the regional center of power in San Francisco and Oakland, she has the support of organized labor, progressive advocates and heavyweights in the party including Attorney General Rob Bonta and Wieckowski.

One of the most expensive primary battles, it was also particularly vicious. Late last year, the Alameda County Democratic Party designated Mei an anti-LGBTQ candidate over a vote she cast as a school board member in 2010 against a resolution to create a day honoring gay rights advocate Harvey Milk. Mei said she only wanted to honor more local civil rights activists, but the party censure prevented her from competing for some local party endorsements

Applicants

  • Democratic
  • Republican
  • American Independent
  • Green
  • Libertarian
  • Peace & Freedom
  • No Party
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Key Endorsements

Lily Mei

Aisha Wahab

  • California Labor Federation
  • Equality California
  • California Environmental Voters
  • California Democratic Party

District 16

The district

Hooking around the east side of Bakersfield, this district balloons outward across the Tulare Basin, extending to Kettleman City on the west side of the valley and to Hanford on the east. Nearly 60% of voters are Latino, and though Democrats dominate as a share of registered voters, white conservatives have traditionally had outsized influence at the ballot box.

Voter registration: 41.3% Democratic, 28.2% Republican, 22.7% no party preference

The scoop

Primary results: David Shepard 43.4%, Melissa Hurtado 29.5%

Senate Democrats aren’t going to have to play too much defense this year, but keeping Sen. Hurtado in office is likely to be the biggest, most expensive exception.

A Sanger Democrat, Hurtado jumped into this campaign late after redistricting to avoid a face-off with Sen. Anna Caballero, a Merced Democrat, in a neighboring district to the north. Though her current district overlaps with this one, Hurtado’s had some reacquainting to do with voters. Senate District 16 doesn’t include the Fresno area, Hurtado’s former base of support, and most voters reside in and around Bakersfield, Delano and Porterville.

Even so, Hurtado easily edged out two local Democrats for a place on the general election ballot. The considerable financial support of Sen. Toni Atkins, the Senate’s top Democrat, and the rest of her caucus probably helped. She’s going to need all that support and then some for the general. The one-term senator is among the most moderate, business-aligned Democrats in Sacramento  — “the female version of Joe Manchin,” the conservative Democratic U.S. senator from West Virginia, is how she put it recently — and maybe for good reason. Her current district is Democratic on paper, but agriculturally-oriented and fairly new to electing Democrats. This new district is also like that, only more so. Plus, as a newcomer, she’s losing some of the familiarity she’s cultivated with Fresno voters over the last four years while opening herself up to the label of carpetbagger.

And then there’s her opponent. Shepard was the only Republican with a functioning campaign on the June ballot and so had the luxury of spending all spring stocking away money. And if political consultants were designing a Republican candidate to best appeal to voters in this district, they might look like Shepard: the Latino son of a four-generation farming family rooted in southern Tulare County.

Applicants

  • Democratic
  • Republican
  • American Independent
  • Green
  • Libertarian
  • Peace & Freedom
  • No Party
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Key Endorsements

Melissa Hurtado

  • Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins
  • Rep. Jim Costa
  • California Democratic Party
  • California Correctional Peace Officers Association
  • California Federation of Teachers

David Shepard

  • U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy
  • State Sen. Shannon Grove
  • California District Attorneys Association
  • Tulare County DA Tim Ward
  • Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

District 20

The district

Spanning the San Fernando Valley, from Canoga Park to Burbank to Sylmar, this district is the northern, ranch home-dotted outer edge of the city of Los Angeles.

Voter registration: 53.1% Democratic, 16.2% Republican, 24.3% no party preference

The scoop

Primary results: Daniel Hertzberg 30.8%, Caroline Menjivar 29.8%

A family affair? Sen. Bob Hertzberg has reached his term limit and is trying to pass the torch to his 31-year-old son, a first-time candidate and sales manager at a South Bay DoubleTree hotel. The outgoing senator’s approach seems to be working: The younger Hertzberg quickly amassed dozens of establishment endorsements, including the backing of the party during the primary, plus an overwhelming amount of campaign cash. Good news for the Hertzberg clan: He  came first in the primary.

The bad news: So did another Democrat. Menjivar finished four percentage points ahead of a Republican, denying Hertzberg an easy general election victory in this Democratic district. A Marine veteran and a former representative for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in the East Valley, Menjivar has emphasized her local roots and the fact that she is a Latina running for what is now a Latino-majority district, while also characterizing the younger Hertzberg for being the beneficiary of rank nepotism. 

This has all made things a bit awkward for the Democratic Party. While most Sacramento elected officials have backed Hertzberg, perhaps out of respect or deference to the candidate’s father who has served as both Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker, many local Democratic activists and progressive groups have sided with Menjivar. And with Sen. Hertzberg running in an overlapping Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors district against progressive Lindsey Horvath, this contest has become part of a larger region-wide clash pitting a nascent political dynasty against two newcomers from the left. 

Applicants

  • Democratic
  • Republican
  • American Independent
  • Green
  • Libertarian
  • Peace & Freedom
  • No Party
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Key Endorsements

Daniel Hertzberg

  • California Democratic Party
  • California Labor Federation
  • California State Council of Laborers
  • U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenas
  • California Nurses Association
  • SEIU California State Council
  • Treasurer Fiona Ma

Caroline Menjivar

  • California Democratic Party Latino Caucus
  • California Democratic Legislative Women’s Caucus
  • California Environmental Voters 

District 38

The district

The district stretches along the coast from northern Orange County through the Camp Pendleton Marine base and down to La Jolla. In few swaths of the state have political views shifted as quickly from rock-ribbed Republican less than a decade ago to narrowly Democratic.

Voter registration: 37.4% Democratic, 31.8% Republican, 24.1% no party preference

The scoop

Primary results: Matt Gunderson 45.9%, Catherine Blakespear 43.0%

Republican incumbent Pat Bates can no longer seek re-election due to term limits. That may be good timing, given the blue bent of this new district.

Blakespear, the mayor of Encinitas, got into the race early and established herself as the Democratic Party’s favorite. A former Los Angeles Times journalist turned lawyer, Blakespear has been in Encinitas local government for eight years where she prioritized boosting housing production and public transit and reducing the coastal city’s carbon footprint. That endeared her to both environmentalists and “Yes In My Backyard” pro-housing activists. But it’s also provided fodder to Blakespear’s political opponents who argue that what plays well in Encinitas may not go over so well with tony Republican regulars in Rancho Santa Fe or the Marines in Camp Pendleton.

Gunderson, a former auto dealer in Orange County, was the lone GOP candidate on the primary ballot and so spent the lead-up quietly raising money. Running as a business-minded political outsider, Gunderson has never held elected office, but he married into California politics as the son-in-law of late Republican state Sen. Dave Cox. Consistent with a once Republican region where many voters have jettisoned the GOP brand during the Trump era, he’s also a self-professed moderate: He describes himself as fiscally, if not socially, conservative and he supports abortion rights. The primary results show that he won’t be able to win with GOP votes alone: Roughly 55% of votes went to the two Democratic candidates.

One area where Gunderson and Blakespear have expressed particularly stark disagreement is housing. While Blakespear developed a reputation in local government as the “pro housing mayor” of Encinitas and has expressed at least cautious support for the idea that the state should play an active role, Gunderson is an adamant defender of local control.

Applicants

  • Democratic
  • Republican
  • American Independent
  • Green
  • Libertarian
  • Peace & Freedom
  • No Party
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Key Endorsements

Catherine Blakespear

  • California Democratic Party
  • California Nurses Association
  • California Labor Federation
  • Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis
  • Former Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez
  • California YIMBY

Matt Gunderson

  • Former U.S. Rep. Mimi Walters
  • Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn.
  • Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer

District 40

The district

From the northern San Diego suburbs, this district runs north and east past Escondido, Poway and San Marcos up into the Laguna Mountains.

Voter registration: 34.5% Democratic, 34.3% Republican, 24.4% no party preference

The scoop

Primary results: Brian Jones 54.4%, Joseph Rocha 45.6%

Republican Jones is among the most conservative members of the state Senate. That makes him an awkward fit for his newly drawn district, which leans to the GOP but which Democrat Joe Biden won relatively easily in 2020 and includes some thoroughly blue portions of Escondido and San Diego. 

Challenging Jones, who is running for a final term, is Democrat Rocha, who switched late from running against U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa. Rocha is a veteran and activist against the military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy on gay servicemembers. He received $231,000 from labor groups in the primary, but that was well short of the $1.2 million total raised by Jones. 

While the district is trending more Democratic, and the party hopes to flip this seat, it won’t be easy: Rocha lost to Jones by 9 percentage points in the primary.

Applicants

  • Democratic
  • Republican
  • American Independent
  • Green
  • Libertarian
  • Peace & Freedom
  • No Party
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Key Endorsements

Brian Jones

  • California Republican Party
  • Peace Officers Research Association of California

Joseph Rocha

  • California Labor Federation
  • Planned Parenthood Action Fund of the Pacific Southwest 
  • Equality California
  • California Democratic Party