San Mateo County Supervisor Rich Gordon has defeated Josh Becker and Yoriko Kishimoto in the Democratic primary Tuesday and appears poised to succeed Ira Ruskin in the 21st Assembly District.
As of early Wednesday, with 80 percent of the precincts reporting, Gordon had claimed 38 percent of the votes, compared to 33 percent for Becker and 28 percent from Kishimoto.
Gordon took an early lead in Tuesday's Democratic primary on the strength of mailed-in ballots and expanded his edge as more results came in.
The district includes northern Santa Clara County and southern San Mateo County, including Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto and Redwood City.
At about 10 p.m., with his victory all but certain, Gordon gave an emotional speech to a crowd of cheering supporters at the Lucie Stern Community Center in Palo Alto in which he acknowledged his early anxieties about the race. Gordon trailed Becker in cash raised for most of the campaign, but finished with his strongest fundraising month, while picking up key endorsements from local officials, unions and newspapers along the way.
"When I started the race, I only knew what I wanted to accomplish," Gordon told his supporters. "But I had no clue, candidly, if I'll find people who would come with me.
"What has transpired has been amazing," he added, before hugging his husband, Dennis McShane, to a burst of applause.
Despite a wave of momentum in the final month of the campaign, Gordon's victory had been far from certain. Becker, a former Congressional aide, united a wide group of entrepreneurs, technologists and business executives behind his enthusiastic campaign, which focused largely on creation of clean-tech jobs.
But while Becker's campaign raised the most cash and made the most use of social media and technology, in the end old-fashioned name recognition won the election, he said. Gordon had spent 12 years on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, while Kishimoto served on the Palo Alto City Council for eight years, including a stint as mayor in 2007, before terming out last year.
"One of the biggest challenges of the race was running against two politicians with high name IDs," Becker said. "It's a big district and you can't meet everyone.
"We felt the more people learned about us, the more they said they would vote for us," he said.
On Tuesday, Becker's campaign headquarters on El Camino Real in Palo Alto was filled with supporters, including his parents, who flew in from Pennsylvania to walk precincts and man phones in the last days of the race. He thanked everyone in attendance for their hard work.
Becker said he now plans to focus on his eight nonprofits and to work on behalf of clean-tech legislation, particularly Assembly Bill 32.
Kishimoto took her loss with equanimity and said she was proud of her "grassroots campaign." Despite being outspent by her two opponents, Kishimoto kept the race close, largely through the support of Palo Alto's neighborhood leaders and conservationists.
On Tuesday, as Gordon's victory appeared increasingly likely, she reflected on her accomplishments.
"I've spent most of my time talking to voters, visiting farmers markets and visiting families," Kishimoto said. "I'm very proud of what my campaign has done."
But it was Gordon who ultimately drew the broadest coalition from the widest geographic area. His campaign party included elected officials from across the Peninsula, including Palo Alto council members Yiaway Yeh and Gail Price, East Palo Alto Councilman Ruben Abrica and Burlingame Councilwoman Terry Nagel.
Gordon's victory means he will now be a heavy favorite in the November race against Republican Greg Conlon in the largely Democratic district. Ruskin, whom both men hope to succeed, will be termed out at the end of the year.