In the four-candidate race for a newly redrawn State Assembly district representing part of the Tri-Valley, voters chose longtime labor leader Liz Ortega as the top candidate and Dublin City Council member Shawn Kumagai in second place to advance to a runoff election this fall.
The most recent vote count for the Assembly District 20 primary, which did not see the incumbent on the ballot, shows Democrats in the first three positions with Ortega 32.2% at the vote, Kumagai at 23.9% and registered nurse and political newcomer Jennifer Esteen at 22.2%, according to the California Secretary of State's Office. Retired scientist Joseph Grcar, the race's lone Republican candidate, was at 21.7%.
There were approximately 104 ballots left to be counted in Alameda County as of press time this week.
"This victory is a victory for every one of you -- and countless other working families -- who expect and demand that the status quo be challenged to provide us with the help and support we need," Ortega said on Twitter on June 8, one day after the primary election.
"I will continue to be relentless in addressing the many challenges Californians face: an end to homelessness and environmental racism, more affordable housing, and accountable, community-empowered public safety approaches," she continued.
Although election results are still uncertified, Ortega's comfortable lead as of Election Night meant confidence that her name would be on the ballot for a runoff election this November. The top two candidates in statewide primaries automatically advance to the general election, regardless of their percentages.
Kumagai initially came in at 25.0% of the vote in the preliminary Election Night count, with his campaign claiming second place the following day.
"While there are more votes to be counted, I am encouraged by yesterday's results," Kumagai said in a June 8 statement. "As we look forward to the general election, I want to extend my deepest thanks to every one of our supporters who worked so hard to make this result possible."
"This is only the beginning of our mission to take on the affordability crisis, help keep neighborhoods safe, and ensure that East Bay families have access to more affordable housing, quality and affordable health care, child care, and education," he added.
However, Esteen, who sat in last place in the initial results after June 7 with 20.8% of the vote behind Grcar's 23.1%, had gained additional momentum as votes continued to be counted, placing her ahead of Grcar and just 1.7% behind Kumagai in the most recent tally.
"We built a movement for real and this isn't the end of anything," Esteen said on Twitter on June 8. "It's step one."
Esteen also noted that she and her campaign would be "watching and counting" as updated numbers come in, and called on her supporters to "conserve your energy" in the meantime.
While Esteen had not yet issued an official statement conceding the race as of Tuesday, with only 104 estimated ballots left to be counted, and Kumagai ahead of Esteen by 1,282 votes, Kumagai said his campaign was currently gearing up for the November runoff election.
Kumagai is currently near the end of his first term on the Dublin City Council, which he was elected to in 2018 as the city's first openly LGBTQ member. He has worked as a district representative for Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan since 2019.
Kumagai announced his run for Assembly shortly after the decennial census and redistricting process resulted in new boundaries for Assembly District 20, which now includes small portions of western Dublin and Pleasanton. He was the only Tri-Valley candidate to emerge.
The district's current representative, Assemblymember Bill Quirk, announced last December that he would not run for re-election, which led to a wide-open race with four candidates clamoring for the freshly redrawn district seat.
Ortega, who is endorsed by Quirk and lives in San Leandro, announced her campaign in December, weeks before Kumagai did. Despite being a political newcomer, a platform that leveraged her past and current work on labor fairness and equity ultimately appealed to the district's voters, giving her a lead against the three other opponents that made her position on the November ballot clear on Election Night. Her priorities include job creation, housing, neighborhood safety, and addressing homelessness.
Other priorities Ortega's campaign highlights include environmental justice and support for public schools. Ortega's husband, Jason Toro, is a former San Leandro Unified School District trustee. In addition to an extensive background as a labor rights and union leader, she currently serves on the county's Vaccine Equity Task Force, and is a former member of the county's Workforce Investment Board.
Kumagai's campaign highlighted his recent political experience on the Dublin City Council, and background as a current reservist and veteran of the U.S. Navy. His platform consists of priorities that he's been vocal about as a council member, including the needs for affordable housing and strong public education for the district's growing population, as well as transportation, jobs, safety and support for small businesses.
With Quirk's final two-year term set to be up at the end of the year, either Ortega or Kumagai are poised to take his place in January, depending on the results of November's general election.