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Campaigns and independent groups have poured more than $2 million into the 15th Senate District special election battle between GOP Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee and former Democratic Assemblyman John Laird.

The legislative seat is targeted as one of the few that could switch parties this election cycle. Democrats now have a six-point registration advantage in the district, which had a slight GOP registration edge when Republican Abel Maldonado was first elected in 2004.

Blakeslee and Laird are two of four candidates running in the special election to replace Maldonado, who was appointed to lieutenant governor. If no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote, the top vote-getter from each party moves on to an August run-off, setting the stage for a rematch between the high spending campaigns.

Both major campaigns are airing television ads, spending a combined $1.2 million so far to compete in a special election where voter turnout isn't expected to surpass 20 percent. The campaigns have also been aided by the respective state parties. A committee controlled by the California Democratic Party has chipped almost $642,000 into Laird's campaign coffers, while Blakeslee has benefited from $100,000 from the state Republican Party.

Independent groups have also spent more than $1 million to boost one of the two front-runners to victory.

Independent expenditure activity reported to the secretary of state include the following groups:

JOBSPAC, a committee funded largely by corporations as well as oil, restaurant and insurance industry groups, has spent more than $765,000 to oppose Laird plus another $97,000 to support Blakeslee's bid.

• A committee run by the SEIU California State Council has spent $107,000 to oppose Blakeslee.

• The California Senior Advocates League -- which has received nearly all its money from JOBSPAC -- has spent $103,000 to oppose Laird.

It's rare for a candidate in a special election to win outright. But in low-turnout contests, anything can happen, especially with two well-known and well-financed candidates running without same-party opposition, said Target Book editor Allan Hoffenblum. Turnout in next Tuesday's election is expected to be especially low because it's taking place just two weeks after the statewide primary.

Still, Independent Jim Fitzgerald could prevent Blakeslee or Laird from winning 50 percent of the vote, Hoffenblum said.

Though Fitzgerald has not reported raising or spending any cash, he has name recognition in the district left over from 2008, when he won 37 percent of the vote as Maldonado's only challenger in the general election.

UPDATE 4:48 p.m.: The post was updated to reflect additional spending reported this afternoon to the Secretary of State.


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