Election season off and running

Once upon a time — oh, maybe four years ago — the general election season began in earnest after Labor Day.

The national political conventions were over, families were back from vacation with the kids in school, and state and local candidates were ready to trot out supporters and policy positions.

No longer. The election season, coming at you in every digital direction, is in full swing, dog days of August notwithstanding.

Witness presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney tapping Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate Saturday. Say what you will about Ryan — along with the tea party, Medicare vouchers and budget intransigence — Romney needed the injection of energy and ideas after a summer of Obama campaign attacks casting him as an out-of-touch, uncaring rich guy.

With the Republican convention starting Aug. 27 (the Democrats have theirs the following week), the Romney camp already is seeing how Democrats will reframe their campaign — shifting to Ryan’s proposals on entitlements, federal spending and tax cuts, rather than just Romney’s track record at Bain Capital.

Voters won’t have to wonder whether they have a choice in the presidential election, regardless of the rhetoric at the conventions. The contrast between the Romney-Ryan vision of smaller government, fewer government programs and expanded tax cuts and Obama’s position on the need to increase taxes on wealthier citizens so that government can continue to deliver services, could not be starker.

On a state level, the lobbying is already fast and furious on the myriad of ballot measures facing voters in the Nov. 6 election, starting with Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax measure and a competing one advanced by attorney Molly Munger. These are just two of 11 ballot measures for November; voters also will be asked to weigh in on the death penalty, the state’s three strikes law, union contributions to political races and labeling genetically engineered foods, among others.

Locally, perhaps the most closely watched race is a rerun of the June primary in the Fifth District county supervisor race between former California Secretary of State, assemblyman and state senator Bruce McPherson and San Lorenzo Valley contractor and Democratic party activist Eric Hammer.

In something of a surprise, McPherson, then a Republican running in a non partisan race, got 49.3 percent of the vote, falling short of the 50 percent plus one needed to avoid a runoff. Since then, he’s changed his party registration to decline to state and Tuesday picked up the endorsement of a leading local Democrat, Santa Cruz County Treasurer Fred Keeley, a former assemblyman and Fifth District supervisor.

Hammer still has the backing of some Democrats — along with labor, and in an election with a higher turnout in an overwhelmingly Democratic county, was thought to have a better chance at upsetting McPherson in November.Keeley’s endorsement could prove telling — but then again, few thought Hammer would make it this far.

The other high-profile election will be for four seats on the Santa Cruz City Council, where only one incumbent, Don Lane, is on the ballot. With former mayor and councilwoman Cynthia Mathews running for a fifth term after sitting out two years because of term limits, the race is probably for the other two seats. Newcomers Pamela Comstock, a founding member of the public safety group Take Back Santa Cruz, longtime  Democratic party fixture Richelle Noroyan, bicycling advocate Micah Posner,  nonprofit leader Cece Pinheiro, homeless services activist Steve Pleich and Jake Fusari also are in the mix in what promises to be a lively campaign.

Why wait for Sept. 4? Away we go.


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