Disclaimer: The views below are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of MCBA and its members.


This year will have the fewest Marin elections in an odd-numbered year in perhaps a century, as we finish the last of the migration of local elections from odd-numbered to even-numbered years, required by a law a few years ago in cases where the difference in turnout between odd-numbered and even-numbered years is too great, as in Marin. In the future, there will be no regularly scheduled Marin elections in odd-numbered years, although there could occasionally be special elections.

The last of these regular odd-year races (the others have all moved already) will be held in November in Novato, Fairfax, San Anselmo, and Larkspur, and the filing period, as usual, runs from mid-July to mid-August, for two to three seats on each council. If past history is any judge, maybe one or two of these will not have an election on the ballot after all, if the same number of candidates file as there are seats (“no contest”). But the big one is Novato, where two incumbents seem like a sure bet to win re-election, but the third is controversial, and will be challenged (although it’s an at-large election, at least for now), and it looks already like it will be a close race.

Here’s a story lawyers may love (or not). A few years ago, the Legislature amended the California Civil Rights Act to allow lawyers to file suit against a city or school district if it holds at-large elections instead of district elections, and it has a history of few or no candidates of color getting elected. Only one attorney I know of, Kevin Shenkman of Malibu, has ever threatened to file suit and he has been systematically going through the large (and now medium-sized) cities and school districts (many large ones already have district elections, but most medium-sized ones do not), sending them letters, showing his research on why they qualify to be threatened with a lawsuit, saying that, as per the law, his damages would be capped at $30,000 if they agree to move to district elections within 90 days. If they don’t, he can file the lawsuit and the damages could and would be ten to one hundred times that, and the city is likely to lose. Most cities cave and change soon after they get his letter, as the city of San Rafael did last year, and the most recent recipients, the city of Novato and the Novato and San Rafael School Boards, will likely do so as well. The only real question is whether they can do it in time for this November’s election, or like San Rafael, wait until 2020 for it to take effect, since their next council election isn’t scheduled until then anyway.


In my last column two months ago, I wrote a few pages about the Democratic primary race generally, including some criteria and theories on what it will take to win the general election, and did one-page profiles of four of the candidates whom I thought were likely the strongest at that point (see here for the archived article on the MCBA website). Well, two months later, I still think those same four candidates are likely the strongest, and poll the best, but of course I’ve had some further thoughts about them. I also profile more briefly a few of the next strongest tier of candidates.


Bernie may be the big dog in the race so far (although he may be supplanted, if only narrowly, by Joe Biden, who will likely announce in early April), by virtue of his having gone from no-chance unknown too-far-left Democratic Socialist to nearly knocking off prohibitive favorite Hillary Clinton, receiving 46% of the popular vote in the primaries and caucuses, and 46% of the delegates. In my opinion, he was surprisingly gentlemanly in the debates specifically, and the campaign generally, and didn’t damage Hillary, although some die-hard Hillary fans still try to blame him for her loss to Trump.

He was shockingly popular (then, and still is), even though he proposed ideas that one would think would be rejected as too radical (e.g., single-payer health care, free college tuition, and $15/hr. minimum wage), but those and other ideas have gained traction during his campaign three to four years ago, and thereafter, and in fact are considered fairly mainstream Democratic ideas now, endorsed by other (progressive) Democratic presidential candidates as well. His ability to raise a ton of money from mostly small donations (which he’s already doing again this year, having raised six million dollars online within 24 hours of announcing, and is about to pass one million donors already) also gives him great power, as his ability to not seek donations from PACs and the ultra-wealthy make him look good, and less beholden to special interests.

He’s the same old Bernie, although with slight tweaks from his last campaign (e.g., talking more about his personal background, and trying to connect with non-white voters more by talking more about race, instead of just class), and in fact I heard him speak in the park above Fort Mason in San Francisco on March 26th. But this time he faces a large number of other candidates, many of whom are also quite progressive and espouse similar positions (unlike last time, when the relatively moderate Hillary was the only other serious Democratic candidate). But he’s likely to be to be in the top two to three throughout the campaign, if not the frontrunner.


I sometimes still see her listed as the frontrunner, but usually she’s behind Joe Biden and Bernie in the polls, as she currently is in Iowa (where the nation’s first caucuses are a mere 10 months away). Willie Brown called her announcement and campaign rollout in January a “Cadillac,” and she has in fact done well, considering she’s only been in the Senate for two years, and was relatively unknown nationally before she announced for President. Women candidates, and candidates of color (or both), often excite the Democratic base, as Kamala does, and some think of her as Obama 2.0—a highly charismatic candidate who can do what Obama did in ’08 and ’12.

In addition to lacking name recognition nationwide (she’s well-known and well-liked in California), she seems to lack a signature issue, although she recently came out with a proposal to substantially raise teacher salaries—an unusual proposal for a presidential candidate, but one that will likely be quite popular. I still think her biggest liabilities are that she’s spent the first 13 of her 15 years in public office as a high-level prosecutor (San Francisco D.A. and California A.G.), and some of her past positions in those roles may not sit well with the emerging progressives, even though she talks and takes positions like a progressive now.


I was a huge Elizabeth Warren fan four years ago when many of us tried to draft her to run, and she demurred (presumably because she’d only been in the Senate for about two years at that point). But she’s always been seen, and still is, as a progressive champion to many, and in fact has some exciting and different proposals, such as a wealth tax on net worth over a certain number of millions (as opposed to an income tax), and campaigns as someone who doesn’t hold fundraisers just for wealthy people (Bernie doesn’t either, but he can afford not to, and as he points out, rich people wouldn’t support him anyway). This may hurt her by making her unable to be financially competitive, and in fact she hasn’t gotten much traction recently in the polls.


As of this writing, Joe hasn’t announced yet, but he’s expected to shortly, and he may well be the frontrunner immediately upon his announcement. He does have an impressive resume (36 years in the Senate, chairing important committee like Foreign Affairs and Judiciary), but his primary popularity comes from his service as Obama’s VP from ’09 through ’16. But when he ran for president previously, he never got much traction, is definitely prone to gaffes, and there are a few unpleasant things he’s done which may disappoint people (e.g., plagiarism accusations in college and the Senate, harsh treatment of Anita Hill when she testified about being sexually harassed by then-SCOTUS nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991).


Beto may or may not remain in the top four to five candidates (according to some polling), as he only has three terms in the House (where he didn’t accomplish much), lost a Senate race last fall to the most hated man in the US Senate, has a quite moderate voting record (although he now talks like a progressive), and has taken significant campaign contributions from special interests. But he is tremendously charismatic, raised a ton of money from throughout the country during his Senate campaign (maybe hatred for Ted Cruz?), and is understandably trying to strike while the iron is hot, although some would rather he run for Senate again in 2020 instead, taking on Republican incumbent John Cornyn, although Cornyn’s more popular than Ted Cruz, and is currently polling at 62%. Supporters say if O’Rourke could do so well in quite-red Texas, maybe he could win lighter red or purplish Southern states like Florida, North Carolina or Arizona. Still others say he’d be an excellent VP candidate, particularly if one of the older candidates gets the nomination, and others say he’d be a good fit with Kamala Harris.


Cory was yet another superstar in college and law school (academically and in sports in college), was a key volunteer and program leader professionally, and a very popular Newark Mayor (having literally saved someone by pulling them out of a burning building) when he was elected to the Senate in 2014. He’s also a physical fitness fanatic and a vegan. His signature issue is urban renewal, stemming from his background even before he was a very activist mayor in this area. But high achievement in college and professionally (including the legal profession, and even politically) don’t always equate to superstardom as a presidential candidate, and while many people thought his keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2016 was fantastic, I may be in the dissenting minority.

Some say he’s the true Obama 2.0, not Kamala Harris, but in any case, Harris gets the edge in the charismatic, energetic, ambitious African-American Senator sweepstakes—she is polling better and raising more money, and will certainly get a large pile of delegates in California’s March 3 primary in 11 months. Maybe VP or cabinet material, or maybe he stays in the Senate, and runs for President again in the future? He’s an impressive candidate, but in this impressive field, he’s in my second tier.


Kristen was a moderate Democratic Congresswoman representing a moderate district in upstate New York, when she was appointed to fill Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat in 2009 when the latter resigned to become Obama’s Secretary of State. In the Senate, she says she can be more progressive, which is more aligned with her natural views, since she represents the entire state, which is more liberal than her former Congressional district. She, too, is an attractive (that’s not a gender-specific term for me; I’m as likely to say that about a male candidate like Cory Booker or Beto O’Rourke), charismatic, ambitious Senator, but her problem has always been that there are too many other people in her lane(s), including Elizabeth Warren (Northeastern, progressive, woman), and Kamala Harris (progressive, woman).

Her signature issue (movement?) is #MeToo, and she has been Congress’ most prominent voice in calling for perpetrators to pay the price for their misdeeds. She played a central role in ending Al Franken’s career, something many Democrats strongly disagreed with her on. She also may be hurt in the primaries by her 10-year legal representation of Big Tobacco before she entered politics, and her formerly conservative votes, but her relative youth would be a good contrast to Trump, as is her “unfiltered” style, which voters seems to like. My bottom line on her, like Cory Booker, is that she is a very strong candidate in a very strong field, but may only be in the second tier, and her polling and fundraising support that thesis.


Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro are all impressive candidates as well, but again, in this very impressive field, I put them in the third tier. The odds of any of them catching everyone in the second tier (O’Rourke, Booker, Gillibrand), much less the first tier (Sanders, Biden, Harris, and Warren), seem slim. There are even longer long-shots, including some really interesting ones (e.g., South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang), but they’d mostly have to be considered fourth tier, in my opinion, and that of most other pundits, I think.