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The California Teachers Association, a Democratic Party pillar, is endorsing Republican Roger Niello in a fierce GOP infight for the 1st Senate District.

An independent-expenditure CTA mailer hit homes of CTA members in the eastern California district over the weekend. It urges voters to elect NIello. "It really speaks for itself," said Mike Mylinski, a CTA spokesman.

Niello, an assemblyman from Fair Oaks, is the only Republican running Tuesday for the state Legislature to receive a CTA endorsement. The special election in the 1st Senate District is the same day as the general election, but it is a primary race that includes three GOP candidates and a Democrat.

The only way one of the four candidates could win outright Tuesday is with more than 50 percent of the total vote. Absent that, the top GOP contender faces off against the Democrat on Jan. 4.

The CTA mailer calls on voters to elect Niello and praises him for "supporting excellence in education," including improved teacher training, career-tech education and up-to-date materials.

Niello said he didn't seek the CTA endorsement, but doesn't reject it. He said he's always willing to maintain good relations and talk to organizations he often disagrees with and look for common ground.

"I think the CTA is being very pragmatic," Niello said. "They know a Republican will win this race."

Niello was one of a handful of Republicans who voted for temporary tax increases as part of a budget deal last year to fill a huge deficit. He explained his vote by saying that the state faced chaos and crisis otherwise. He has been under fire from strict anti-tax conservatives ever since.

Niello faces Assemblyman Ted Gaines, R-Roseville; Barbara Alby, a former Republican assemblywoman; and Ken Cooley, a Democrat and mayor of Rancho Cordova.

Republicans hold an 11-point advantage over Democrats in the district.

This post was updated with comments from Niello at 5:19 p.m.


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