The Stockton and San Joaquin County centered 9th Congressional District has had the unusual distinction of being both a reliable Democratic district and a district that always seems to be right on the edge of being overturned. Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-CA) has won the district each year since 2012, and before then as a previous district around Stockton since 2006. But he has never gotten over 58% of the vote. In fact, his current challenger, Tony Amador, nearly beat him in 2014 when there was less than a 6,000 vote difference in a 52%-48% battle. It fluctuates, but it still comes that close.
The 2020 primary brought similar forewarnings with McNerney getting 56.6% of the vote, beating second place Republican finisher Amador who clocked in with 30.4% of the vote, and fellow Republican Wailliam Martinek who ended up with 13% of the vote. But with a lower than normal Republican turnout due to no primary challenge, Republicans may come out a few percentage points closer. That not only means another close race in what should be a safe Democratic holding, but one where money can potentially make it even closer.
A Congressman since 2007, McNerney has learned how to get into the fundraising groove. According to the FEC, he raised a total of $725,000 in the first quarter and disbursed $458,000. His top family/family member employee group donor turned out to be computer and technology giant Apple with $12,200. Former NBA commissioner David Stern’s group DJS Global Advisors, ranch McCormack Sheep and Grain, and concrete contractor R&L Bosamer all came in second giving $11,200. While his donors were labor and tech heavy, his donors reflected the spread of Stockton’s major employers and business sectors across the board. With the exception of Democratic groups giving $71,600, the vast majority of them came in on a close range of giving from $20,000 to $50,000.
McNerney, however, was PAC heavy. Nearly $300,000 worth of PAC money was donated during the first quarter. This is especially jarring considering that Amador didn’t touch any PACs in the first quarter. At the same time, McNerney mostly accepted in-state donations. Only 8% of his donations came from outside of California, showing that there isn’t that large of a need from the national party at this time.
Retired U.S. Marshal Tony Amador won second place over financial adviser William Martinek despite being out raised, outspent, and having newspapers support Martinek. While Amador only recorded $6,600 in receipts and $4,600 in disbursements, Martinek raised $18,200 and spent $14,800. However Amador, partially due to his name recognition, won out. Amador’s only family/family member group donator came from his very own realty company Amador and Associates, who gave $2,800.
Amador didn’t have any listed top individual sector donors, although from the Amador and Associates donation it can be said that some had a realty backing. Amador also didn’t have any PAC support Q1. But, despite having a much lower donation and spending figures, 100% of Amador’s money came from in-state places. With Amador as the Republican candidate and McNerney’s main challenger, that may change, especially if polls start to come within 10 points.
What this means for the 9th
Stockton and the surrounding area tends to be a bluer shade of purple, and this race doesn’t change that fact. However, the race does have a newly impassioned Amador coming off a second-place win in party leaders had already started backing the other candidate, with McNerney now facing the one candidate who came very close to beating him only six years ago.
McNerney has the money and support. Anytime he needs anything extra, his status as an incumbent and his close ties with PAC donations can assure him of having anything needed being taken care of. This is big especially now with the coronavirus causing havoc with donations and fundraisers. But Amador has run on tight amounts of money before, getting over 40% of the vote with a campaign budget of less than six figures. Many outlets are saying it’s a lock for McNerney, and in all likelihood, it is.
But if it starts to get close going into the fall and McNerney sees he can’t take away votes simply with sheer amounts of money, then things might become like the 2014 race again. It’s hard to put down a candidate in a race where money doesn’t make a lot of difference.
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