The 15th Senate District is located entirely within Santa Clara County. Most of San Jose and a few wealthy suburbs like Cupertino and Campbell dwell inside, as does the Apple campus and several different ethnic neighborhoods.
Whites, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans are in equal numbers in the district, many of whom have been brought in by the still-booming tech industry here. This also makes the 15th a very wealthy district, and because of the politics of the area, a very Democratic district. About half of all voters are registered Democrats, with registered Republicans only coming in at around 20%.
However, for as much as wealth is a factor here, there are still many poorer areas of the district, a testament to all the labor jobs needed to support San Jose and the tech companies. In 2020, the Republican minority and less wealthy members of the district are playing a special part in the district election, as there is no incumbent running who can get easy support.
This district has never had a non-Democratic state Senator. Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose) has been in office since being elected in 2012. Despite being involved in some controversial bills, most notably the gas tax bill back in 2017, Beall has had a steady 55%-60% average of votes each election, beating fellow Democrats both times.
The district hasn’t voted for a major Republican candidate since Pete Wilson in 1994 when he ran for Governor, and they haven’t looked back since. Clinton won here with 73% of the vote four years ago, with Newsom nearly getting as much in the 2018 Gubernatorial. For voters here, it’s not a Republican V. Democrat issue. It’s more of a choice of just how much of a left-leaning candidate they want.
Beall is term-limited out of the race this year, making the 15th a battle between Democrats Dave Cortese and Ann Ravel.
Dave Cortese – Much like Beall, Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese has been a fixture of San Jose-area politics for decades. A San Jose City Councilman for much of the 2000’s, including a a few stints as Vice Mayor, Cortese was elected as a County Supervisor in 2008. In 2014 Cortese even ran for Mayor of San Jose, narrowly losing out to now-Mayor Sam Liccardo.
Cortese has been notable for his many gun control initiatives while on the County Board of Supervisors, so much so that the NRA currently gives him a 0% rating on his voting over gun rights in California. He has also been big on expanding public transportation, including being instrumental in enticing BART down to the South Bay. He has also surprised Republicans with his support of sunshine government transparency laws.
In 2020, Cortese is running on the holy trinity of contemporary California political issues: homelessness, housing, and the environment. In addition, he is also running on other issues such as public safety, healthcare, and his near and dear public transportation cause. If there is anything major affecting the great San Jose area, you can be sure that he has a ready-to-go stance on it.
A ton of unions and organizations back Cortese this year, including many pro-high-density housing groups. He also has the blessing of Beall, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, and the Democratic party itself.
Suffice to say, Cortese is the odds on favorite heading into the final weeks of the race.
Ann Ravel – While Cortese has had a longtime hold in San Jose politics, Ann Ravel has had a hold in the area in a different way. Originally from Chile, Ravel moved to California at age 11. After initially working in the fields and canneries in the Salinas Valley, she graduated from U.C. Berkeley and soon had a law degree and became a labor rights attorney, taking one case all the way to the Supreme Court. Next she became Santa Clara County Counsel for 11 years, following that up with a stint as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General, getting national attention over the BP oil spill case.
Since coming back to California, Ravel has been appointed by former Governor Jerry Brown as a lawyer for special cases, as well as former President Barack Obama to the Federal Election Commission.
Ravel has earned the ire of Republicans many times over, especially when she went after the Koch brothers in court. But she has also brought up issues that Cortese really hasn’t touched such as women’s rights and worker’s rights, winning over many working class voters in the district despite many unions pulling for Cortese on paper.
Her stances on many issues have been to the left of Cortese, such as her push to make California a “right to shelter” state. She’s also big on immigrant issues. This has won over many Hispanic voters for her due to her liberal stance on it, as well as coming over from South America herself. She has highlighted stances both on traditional California issues as well as social justice issues that have only become more important to her constituents in the wake of the George Floyd protests from earlier this year.
And while Cortese has the Democratic Party behind him, Ravel has her former boss, Barack Obama, endorsing her. Cortese’s former Mayoral opponent, Sam Liccardo, is also backing her, along with many community, activist, and protest groups, including nearly every LGBT organization.
Democrats are really having a hard time choosing here to say the least.
What does this mean?
This election will help determine which way California Democrats are going to go in the next few years. Will they broaden out and take a more moderate stance to keep the GOP at bay? Or are they going to continue going on the west coast Democratic route and continue veering left? The 15th district will be a good litmus test.
It will also show what Republicans will do in a dominated Democratic district. Will they go with the moderate Democrat or will they abstain? Cortese, whether he admits it or not, wants that 20% of the district to be on his side. Ravel is also looking at the Hispanic vote due to her background and immigration stance. They’re also fighting for the support of individual ethnic groups in the region, which can go either way.
The 15th will be a good test case on what is coming to the state in terms of political support. Cortese will likely win here this year, but right now it’s close. Cortese didn’t win by much in the Primary, and if Obama’s support counts for anything, Ravel is going to make it interesting.
In all likelihood, it will be up to the Republican and Hispanic minorities here on which candidate will win. Both candidates need to continue courting the vote. Whichever one does it less is going to lose.