Forget basketball: it's March Madness for California elections.
The deadline to file for legislative races came and went this week, an election cycle milestone that maps the field for the 2014 campaign season. The Secretary of State still needs to certify the filings, but here's a preliminary look at what we learned in the Sacramento area:
6th Senate District
Two incumbent Assembly Democrats will compete to replace Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who is termed out of at the end of the year.
Assembly members Roger Dickinson and Richard Pan will vie for Steinberg's soon-to-be former post, a race whose outcome will be less predictable with the entry of Republican challengers James Axelgard and Jonathan Zachariou, who ran for Dickinson's seat in 2012. It's a heavily Democratic district, but the presence of some Republicans raises the possibility that either Pan or Dickinson won't finish in the top-two in June and advance to the general.
By jumping into the Steinberg sweepstakes, both Dickinson and Pan have forfeited their Assembly seats. There's no shortage of prospective state legislators happy to fill the void.
7th Assembly District
Two Sacramento City Council Democrats will seek the 7th Assembly District seat Dickinson now holds: Steve Cohn and Kevin McCarty. McCarty, who has distinguished himself as a skeptic of a new Sacramento Kings arena, narrowly lost to Dickinson in the 2010 primary.
Also vying for the reliably Democratic district is Democratic West Sacramento City Council member Mark Johannessen. Counterbalancing the 7th District Dems are Republican Ralph Merletti, who unsuccessfully sought a school board seat in the Sacramento City Unified school district, and Republican Oliver Ponce.
8th Assembly District
In the 8th Assembly District, incumbent Democratic Assemblyman Ken Cooley will fend off challengers from Libertarian candidate Janice Marlae Bonser and Republican Douglas Haaland, who worked as a staffer for Republican members of the Legislature like Phil Wyman and Shirley Horton.
9th Assembly DistrictThen there is Pan's seat in the 9th Assembly District. Like the 7th, the 9th has a marked Democratic voter registration advantage, which should mean a fierce fight between Democratic Sacramento City Council member Darrell Fong, Elk Grove City Council member Jim Cooper and Sacramento City Unified school district trustee Diana Rodriguez-Suruki.
Appealing to the district's conservatives are Republicans Manuel J. Martin, a libertarian-leaning conservative activist, and Tim Gorsulowsky, who moved to Elk Grove in 2012 after a failed write-in bid for the Saratoga City Council.
Editor's note: This post was updated at 1:50 p.m. to reflect Merletti's party designation.
PHOTO: Election officials process the ballots by machine as a last step after the hand count at the Sacramento County Elections office on November 13, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Renée C. Byer