Low survives historic primary race, will vie in November to be Bay Area's 1st gay congressmember

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday April 4, 2024
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Gay Assemblymember Evan Low is part of a trio of candidates moving on to the general election race for an open South Bay U.S. House seat. Photo: Courtesy the candidate
Gay Assemblymember Evan Low is part of a trio of candidates moving on to the general election race for an open South Bay U.S. House seat. Photo: Courtesy the candidate

Having survived a historic primary race for an open South Bay U.S. House seat, gay Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Cupertino) will now vie in November to be the Bay Area's first gay congressmember. But he is facing a tough three-person contest this fall.

As the Bay Area Reporter first reported online April 3, Low ended up tying for second place with Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian once all ballots were counted this week. The two Democrats both received 30,249 votes.

Because California's election code does not allow a tie vote in a primary to be determined "by lot," the pair will both appear on the November 5 ballot along with former San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo. The fellow Democrat finished first in the March 5 primary race with 38,489 votes.

One of the three will succeed Congressmember Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto), as she decided to retire when her current term expires. Her House District 16 seat spans San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

"I am honored to have won the support of our community to advance to the general election to replace the esteemed Anna Eshoo for Congress. Thank you to all of my incredible supporters who gave their time, money, and votes to support our campaign," stated Low. "This historically close race shows that every vote really counts. I could not have made it this far without every one of you, and I hope to earn your support once again in November."

Low also expressed thanks to the other candidates who ran in the primary, including bisexual Palo Alto City Councilmember Julie Lythcott-Haims, "for a thoughtful campaign and for their commitment to serve our community. I look forward to continuing to share my vision for the future with every voter in the coming months."

Elections officials in both jurisdictions certified their vote counts Thursday. It is reportedly the first time three candidates will advance out of a primary race since California began using its open primary system. Adopted by voters in 2010, normally only the top two vote-getters regardless of party affiliation advance out of the primary for a federal office to the general election.

In the case of a tied vote, per the state's election code, "if only one candidate receives the highest number of votes cast but there is a tie vote among two or more candidates receiving the second highest number of votes cast, each of those second-place candidates shall be a candidate at the ensuing general election along with the candidate receiving the highest number of votes cast, regardless of whether there are more candidates at the general election than prescribed by this article."

Any of the candidates or a registered voter in the state can ask for a recount. They now have five calendar days to do so, but it will cost them tens of thousands of dollars because the financial burden falls on them and not the county election offices.

In announcing her certification of the primary election results in Santa Clara County, Registrar of Voters Shannon Bushey noted, "The results of this election exemplify why your vote truly matters."

Other close races

The House race was one of several primary contests with LGBTQ candidates across the Golden State that took weeks to determine due to razor-thin vote margins. It wasn't until March 28 that bisexual Riverside City Councilmember Clarissa Cervantes declared victory in her race for an open Assembly seat.

Cervantes took second place over fellow Democrat Ronaldo Fierro by 202 votes. In November, she will compete against Republican Leticia Castillo, who placed first in the primary, for the 58th Assembly District seat that spans Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

"I want to extend my deep gratitude and appreciation to my daughter, my family, my dedicated team, our tremendous volunteers, and every labor union and organization who stood with us and believed in my candidacy," stated Cervantes. "Thank you for standing with me. I am ready to champion the needs of our communities in Sacramento and ready to deliver lasting results for the Inland Empire."

If victorious, Cervantes will be one of the Golden State's first bisexual female legislators. She would also succeed her sister, lesbian Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona), who is favored to win her November 5 race for the open Senate District 31 seat against GOPer Cynthia Navarro.

The Cervantes sisters, who are both moms, would be the first pair of LGBTQ siblings to serve together in the California Legislature. Of the two, Clarissa Cervantes is likely facing the tougher fall campaign.

Castillo and Republicans likely will continue hammering her over being arrested last year for drunken driving weeks after a judge had dismissed her DUI conviction from 2015. Cervantes has been sober for more than seven months now, per a campaign spokesperson, and was one of several Democratic primary candidates who overcame DUI headlines to win in March.

State Senator Dave Min (D-Irvine) also faced attacks stemming from his DUI arrest last year in Sacramento. Nonetheless, he survived his March 5 contest for an open U.S. House seat in the heart of Orange County and is competing in November against former Republican Assemblymember Scott Baugh of Huntington Beach.

Min's campaign blasted Baugh Thursday over his benefitting from an April 3 fundraiser in Newport Beach with Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana. It signaled how their race "is ground zero in the fight for the House," stated Min campaign spokesperson Amelia Matier. "Baugh's connections to white nationalists and his backing by groups against abortion and LGBTQ+ rights fit right into Johnson's MAGA Congressional playbook."

They are seeking the District 47 seat being vacated by Congressmember Katie Porter (D-Irvine), as she lost her primary bid for the U.S. Senate seat that for years had been held by the late Senator Dianne Feinstein. After her death last fall, Democratic lesbian U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler was appointed to fill the vacancy by Governor Gavin Newsom.

Butler opted not to seek a full term this year and will step down shortly after the November 5 election. Congressmember Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) is expected to easily win the seat over his GOP opponent, retired baseball star Steve Garvey.

The state's current two gay congressional members, Democrats Mark Takano of Riverside and Robert Garcia of Long Beach, both represent Southern California districts and are expected to easily win reelection in November. They both had endorsed Low in his primary race.

Southern California congressional candidate Will Rollins has recevied support from the Democratic Party. Photo: Courtesy the candidate  

But as he is seeking a safe Democratic seat that will not factor into if Democrats retake the House this year, Low will not have the same party advantages as gay congressional candidate Will Rollins has in his bid for a House seat in the Palms Spring area. Rollins is aiming to oust from office conservative Congressmember Ken Calvert (R-Corona) from his 41st Congressional District seat.

His race is seen as a possible pickup for the Democrats, and unlike when he first ran against Calvert in 2022, Rollins has received early backing and support from his party since he launched his campaign last year. Thursday Rollins announced raising over $1.8 million in the first three months of 2024.

His campaign noted it is the single-highest fundraising quarter ever for a candidate running against Calvert. Rollins is also reporting having more than $3 million in cash on hand as he ramps up his fall campaign.

"The contrast in our race could not be clearer, and that's demonstrated by our continued fundraising success," stated Rollins. "Voters in California's 41st District know that 32 years of Ken Calvert is far too much. It's time to turn the page from his decades of corruption and MAGA extremism and bring in new leadership that works across the aisle to get things done for Riverside County. Together, we are going to win this race and deliver a pro-democracy and pro-working family agenda for the people of our district."

Two other gay Democratic congressional candidates are mounting rematches this year and have not gotten the same party support as Rollins has received. Progressive lawyer David Kim aims to oust from office Congressmember Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) from his District 34 House seat to become the first out Korean American elected to Congress.

Progressive activist Derek Marshall is seen as the underdog in his race against Congressmember Jay Obernolte (R-Hesperia) for the District 23 House seat in the high desert country east of Los Angeles.

In the East Bay race to succeed outgoing Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), who also lost her primary bid for Feinstein's former Senate seat, queer candidate Jennifer Kim-Anh Tran, Ph.D., is also seen as the underdog against fellow Democrat Lateefah Simon. The BART board member took a commanding lead in their primary race for the District 12 House seat and is expected to easily win it come November 5.

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