The open primary that is just about five weeks away has created a new dynamic.
The new approach means that all voters will receive the same ballot and can vote for anyone standing for election to a particular office. That contrasts with the traditional party primaries where the top Democrat would advance to face the top Republican.
Now, in the 15th Congressional District, it's very likely that it will be two Democrats facing off in November. The district includes much of Alameda County.
Sitting at dinner with a group of older and mostly conservative guys, it was striking to hear a long-time active Republican tell his colleagues to support Dublin City Councilman Eric Swalwell in his uphill battle against 40-year incumbent Pete Stark in a contest between Democrats. Yes, that's 40-year incumbent, not 40-year-old. Pete is 80.
Stark lives in Maryland, but has represented portions of the valley for half of his tenure. The speaker supported the last seriously challenger to Stark back in the 1970s.
Swalwell's grassroots campaign has the notoriously loose-lipped Stark making outrageous allegations in public. Despite his tenure, Stark's fellow Democrats wanted no part of him chairing the House Ways and Means Committee after Charley Rangel was forced to resign. Despite his seniority, he was passed over.
Stark's comments in an election forum were so out-of-line that the Tri-Valley Democratic Club sent him a letter demanding that he conduct a civil campaign based upon facts and the needs of the district.
With the top two vote-getters advancing to the November general election, it's quite likely that this race will continue throughout the summer and into the fall.
Given that the Democrats hold a 2-to-1 edge in voter registration (48 percent to 24 percent), a Republican need not bother.
If Swalwell receives a decent share of the votes in June, it will be interesting to see if the Democratic establishment continues to solidly back the ineffective Stark for another term years after he should retired or whether they'll shift to a freshman who will face a tough challenge from two or more challengers come 2014. Out of deference to Stark, they're sitting out this race.
Swalwell could be hoping to duplicate Rep. Jerry McNerney's success. The Pleasanton resident benefitted greatly from his write-in campaign against then-incumbent Richard Pombo in 2004 and then rode that name recognition to the Democratic nomination in 2006 and caught the perfect storm to win election to the House. He's since declined to face Stark after Pleasanton was included in his district and has shifted his attention east to a Stockton-based district.