Gaines, Niello will go head to head in 2012

Early start to campaign for Cox’s State Senate seat
By: Nathan Donato-Weinstein Gold Country News Service
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Ted Gaines and Roger Niello aren’t wasting any time. The Republican assemblymen have quietly filed papers allowing them to begin raising money toward a 2012 campaign for the state’s 1st Senate District, according to documents with the Secretary of State’s Office. That seat, currently held by Republican Dave Cox, will presumably be up for grabs by then when Cox is termed out in 2012. The filings set up a primary battle between the more moderate Niello and unabashedly conservative Gaines, local analysts said, that could benefit Gaines. “In a closed Republican primary, the more conservative candidate is favored,” said Jeff Flint, a conservative Sacramento political consultant who is not working for either candidate but has contributed to Gaines. He cited Niello’s vote last month for the state budget accord as a potential problem among Republican primary voters. At the same time, “Ted’s never really been through a tough battle for a state legislative race,” he said. “There is something to be said for being battle tested.” Gaines, of Roseville, filed his intent-to-run documents in May, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. Niello has been in the race since December of last year. “I just think there are a lot of common beliefs between what I’ve represented in the state Assembly and the larger Senate district,” Gaines said this week. But he wasted little time drawing a contrast between himself and Niello. “Roger Niello is a nice man but we have philosophical differences that are pretty clear. I have not supported tax increases while Roger has increased taxes,” he said, referring to the budget vote. Niello, who is termed out at the end of his current term in 2010, said he has more to offer. “I find myself toward the end of my Assembly career and I’m not done,” he said. Niello said efforts to paint him as far to the left of Gaines are overblown. “On balance, I think if you put Ted’s voting record against my voting record you’d have a hard time saying there is a significant difference,” he said. The early start – two election cycles away – isn’t surprising, said local political analyst Gary Dietrich, president of the nonpartisan group Citizen Voice. California’s strict term limits law, enacted in 1990, means “people have to be looking for their next office right away,” Dietrich said. Indeed, if Gaines is re-elected in 2010, he would be restricted in 2012 from running again for his 4th District Assembly seat because of term limits. Niello, the 5th District assemblyman, is termed out at the end of his current term in 2010. “You’ve got six years in the Assembly,” Dietrich said. “Then you get to two years left and say, ‘What do I do?’ You can’t wait till you walk out the door.” Another reason for the early filings isn’t surprising these days: fundraising. A successful state Senate campaign these days can cost “millions,” Dietrich said. Niello already has a head start in that department. Documents show his 2012 committee had $62,575.50 in available cash as of June 30, while a 2008 Assembly campaign account held $350,000. Gaines’ 2012 committee account showed he hadn’t yet raised enough funds to require reporting, a $1,000 threshold. His 2008 Assembly campaign account had $285,000 in available cash. But a big unknown haunts every state office seeker in 2012. A new nonpartisan citizens’ commission is slated to redraw boundaries before then, and that means no one knows what the district – which currently stretches from Oregon to Mammoth Lakes and includes Elk Grove, Folsom, Fair Oaks, Carmichael, parts of Roseville and Granite Bay — will look like. “It could be more Republican, it could be less,” Dietrich said. “It’s going to make a lot of people very nervous.” Niello agreed. “Between now and 2012 we will go through perhaps a dozen political lifetimes,” Niello said. Nathan Donato Weinstein can be reached at Note: A previous version of this story stated Senator Cox would run for re-election in 2010. He is currently serving his final 4-year term, which ends in 2012.