Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

GOP Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee and Democrat John Laird square off in the 15th Senate District special primary election today.

The current and former lawmakers are two of four candidates vying to replace Republican Abel Maldonado, who gave up the seat to take the lieutenant governor post.

Libertarian Mark Hinkle and Independent Jim Fitzgerald are also on the ballot. Fitzgerald hasn't reported raising or spending any money in the race, but could siphon votes thanks to high name ID in the district. In 2008, he won 37 percent of the vote as the sole challenger to Maldonado in the general election.

Originally drawn as a Republican district, Democrats have gained an edge over the years. Dems now hold a six-point voter registration advantage, and President Barack Obama carried the coastal district with 59 percent of the vote in 2008.

The possibility that the seat could change party hands has made the contest one of the most targeted battles of the cycle. Campaigns and independent groups have poured millions into the high-stakes contest in recent weeks, with much of the debate centering on offshore oil drilling.

Alert readers will recall that the setting of the election date set off some controversy this spring, as Democrats and local election officials urged Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to consolidate the run-off with the November general. All argued it would save the counties costs, and some Democratic observers believed the higher turnout in November would benefit Laird.

A lawsuit was filed, bankrolled by the state Democratic Party, to try to stall the election date until one county subject to federal pre-clearance of election changes got the go-ahead from the Justice Department. It did, and a restraining order halting the election was promptly lifted.

Turnout is expected to be dismal - as low as 20 percent according to some estimates - for the special election held just two weeks after the statewide primary. It's unlikely that a candidate will win the seat outright, especially with Fitzgerald on the ballot. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, all four advance to an Aug. 17 run-off.

STATE VISIT: Schwarzenegger is in San Francisco today, meeting with Russian Federation President Dmitry Medvedev. The two are expected to talk about California's green jobs sector.

KICKING BUTTS: Lawmakers and anti-smoking advocates are holding a 10:30 news conference to tout a bill to help Californians kick their cigarette addictions. SB 220, by Democratic Sen. Leland Yee, would require some health insurance plans to provide coverage for certain smoking cessation programs. Proponents say the measure would save lives and lower health care costs over time. Opponents, including groups representing heath insurance providers, say the proposal is too broad and costly. The Assembly Health Committee will consider the bill at its 1:30 p.m. hearing.

TUESDAY-MORNING QB: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith will be at the Capitol to push for AB 12, a bill that would extend foster care transitional services to California youth up to age 21. Smith, who started a foundation to help youth in foster care, will headline a 10 a.m. news conference on the issue before the Senate Judiciary Committee takes up the bill at 1 p.m.



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