Democrat Rebecca Bauer-Kahan has declared victory in the District 16 election after a concession call from Republican Assemblywoman Catharine Baker in the wake of the challenger leapfrogging the incumbent to take a 2,901-vote lead after a large results update by Contra Costa County officials Friday afternoon.
The outcome represents a remarkable turnaround for Bauer-Kahan, an Orinda attorney with no prior elected experience who finished 13.2% behind two-term Republican Baker in June's primary election and trailed by 2.4% after early returns on Election Night on Nov. 6 but then continued to make up ground each subsequent day as more vote-by-mail and provisional ballots were counted.
The margin now sits comfortably in the Democrat’s favor, 50.7% to 49.3%, with the vast majority of District 16 ballots tabulated.
“The voters have spoken. It is now clear that the voters of Assembly District 16 have selected me to represent them in Sacramento,” Bauer-Kahan said in a victory statement Friday afternoon. “I want to thank Catharine Baker for her years of service for our district and thank her for her gracious call today to congratulate me.”
“I am looking forward to getting to work for my community and delivering for my new constituents,” she added. “We showed that a campaign focused on the issues can overcome millions in special interest spending and I want to thank the voters for having the confidence in me to get the job done.”
Baker, a Dublin resident and attorney by trade who held onto a rare Assembly seat in the Bay Area for the GOP for four years, confirmed the concession Friday afternoon in a message to supporters.
“I want to share with you that I have just called my opponent, Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, to congratulate her on winning election to the State Assembly for District 16, and to wish her success. While there remain many ballots to count, the outcome is not expected to change,” Baker said.
“It has been the honor of my life to represent our community, a community I love in a state I love. I am deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to serve as your Assemblymember,” Baker continued, adding:
“A big, heartfelt thank-you to my outstanding staff here in our District and in the Capitol, and for the amazing volunteer, endorsement, and donor support that gave us a strong, bipartisan showing. And my biggest thank-you to my husband, Dan, and our kids, Kate and Alex.”
Alameda and Contra Costa counties report still having some vote-by-mail, provisional and conditional ballots left to count countywide, but the new deficit appears too steep for Baker to overcome with the bulk of ballots tallied.
Assembly District 16 is split among the two counties, consisting overall of the Tri-Valley and Lamorinda communities and a portion of Walnut Creek.
Bauer-Kahan would be the district’s first Democrat representative since Joan Buchanan termed out from the State Assembly in 2014. It would also mean both of Pleasanton’s representatives in the State Legislature are Orinda Democrats, along with State Senator Steve Glazer -- he was not up for election this year.
As results are solidifying statewide, the Democrats have regained a comfortable supermajority in the Assembly, with 60 districts (including District 16) called for the Democrats and 20 set to go to the Republicans.
Bauer-Kahan looks to be among the Democratic candidates buoyed by the so-called "blue wave" at the polls throughout California this November amid those voters’ growing disdain for the Republican Party and President Donald Trump’s administration.
But the results weren’t always as promising for the political newcomer from Orinda.
Friday marked the first time Bauer-Kahan officially took the lead in the general election -- which at one time saw Baker ahead early by hundreds of votes (2.4% margin) at the end of Election Night.
But the gap closed consistently in Bauer-Kahan's favor over the ensuing week and a half as more vote-by-mail and provisional ballots were tallied and Alameda County updated its totals each day, a margin that dwindled down to just a 159-vote advantage for Baker on Thursday evening.
Then on Friday afternoon, Bauer-Kahan's home county of Contra Costa released its first election results update since Nov. 9 and the Democrat expanded her once-narrow lead in that county to nearly 2,800 votes -- enough to jump in front of Baker overall. By Saturday afternoon, the Democrat also broke ahead in Alameda County, by 121 votes.
The overall count now stands at 105,396 votes for Bauer-Kahan, compared to 102,495 ballots for Baker.
During the campaign this fall, Bauer-Kahan presented herself as a Democrat who would always represent the voice of District 16 residents, compared to Baker's record, especially on women's rights, environmental protection and gun control.
Baker tried to position herself as an independent voice who delivers results for the communities in her district and who is willing to work with legislators on both sides of the aisle to achieve key constituent priorities.
The Baker campaign cited her voting history as progressive and bipartisan, while Bauer-Kahan backers argued the incumbent hadn't demonstrated enough consistency.
Bauer-Kahan is an attorney and married mother of school-age children who entered her first Assembly election with school volunteer and nonprofit service experience, but no elected or local government service time, trying to offer District 16 a new type of political voice in Sacramento.
That was strikingly similar background to Baker's in 2014 when the Republican attorney won her first-ever elected position by defeating union-backed Democrat and former Dublin mayor Tim Sbranti in a tight race for the open Assembly seat after Buchanan termed out. Baker retained the seat for the GOP in 2016, comfortably defeating Democrat Cheryl Cook-Kallio, a former Pleasanton City Council member.
Looking ahead, Alameda County officials said results would be updated each day until finalized while Contra Costa County officials plan to release their next update next Wednesday afternoon, saying they have around 36,000 ballots left pending countywide. (They say they’re unable to determine how many of those are in District 16.)
Local election results must be certified by Dec. 7, according to the California Secretary of State's Office.