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California's first openly gay Assembly leader pushed today to defeat Republican candidate Andy Pugno, author and general counsel for the ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage and is under legal challenge.

But Speaker John A. Pérez denied that he is targeting Pugno because of the gay-rights issue or that defeating him in the 5th Assembly District would provide any extra degree of satisfaction.

"Every race we win is particularly sweet," Pérez said. "It's not personal."

In the homestretch of a four-day bus tour, Pérez and about a dozen other Assembly leaders stopped at the headquarters of Democratic candidate Richard Pan to thank several dozen of the candidate's supporters for get-out-the vote efforts.

Pugno and Pan are fighting for the Assembly seat of termed-out Fair Oaks Republican Roger Niello, who is running for the Senate seat vacated by the death of Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks.

Republicans narrowly outnumber Democrats -- 40 percent to 38 percent - in the 5th District, which stretches from Folsom to Natomas to Granite Bay, encompassing portions of Sacramento and Placer counties.

Pérez criticized Pugno today for "divisiveness" and for being "more concerned with his own personal social agenda" than with fighting to right the economy and improve education. But Perez did not specifically mention Proposition 8.

The Los Angeles Democrat identified his top-priority Assembly campaigns as those to capture Niello's seat and to defend incumbent Democrats Joan Buchanan, Alamo; Alyson Huber, El Dorado Hills; Manuel Perez, Coachella; and Marty Block, San Diego.

"There are a couple of other seats that we're looking at, but these are our top five," he said.

Pérez declined to predict whether balloting would expand his 50-member Assembly Democratic Caucus, whose meetings typically have been attended by a 51st legislator, independent Juan Arambula of Fresno, who is termed out this year.

"We're going to fight like hell to win every seat we can win," Perez said simply.



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