California: Speier Heavily Favored to Win Today’s Special

Posted April 7, 2008 at 6:36pm

Voters in the 12th district head to the polls today to vote in a special election to replace the late Rep. Tom Lantos (D), with former state Sen. Jackie Speier (D) positioned to not only finish on top, but win with the 50 percent of the vote she’ll need to avoid a runoff.

Speier, facing limited competition in today’s contest, is a well-known figure in the heavily Democratic, San Francisco-area 12th district, having previously served as San Mateo County supervisor and as an aide to the late Rep. Leo Ryan (D). A majority of the district’s registered voters — 51 percent — are Democrats; 25 percent are enrolled as independents and 20 percent are Republican.

Armed with an internal poll showing she would defeat Lantos handily in the regular June 3 Democratic primary, Speier was planning to challenge the Congressman in that contest before he announced that he had cancer and would not run for re-election. Lantos succumbed to the disease earlier this year.

In addition to Speier, health policy director Michelle McMurry (D) and two Republicans also are running in today’s 12th district special election. But none of them is expected to be a major factor in the outcome. Speier had more than $609,000 in the bank as of March 27, and in the days since has received contributions worth $77,000, according to reports she filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Speier has been working as an attorney since being termed out of the state Senate in 2006. She ran for lieutenant governor that year, but she lost after finishing a close second in a three-way Democratic primary.

In 1978, Speier was serving as a staffer for Ryan when she accompanied him to Guyana to investigate possible human rights abuses at the Peoples Temple compound in Jonestown, run by the Rev. Jim Jones. Some of Jones’ followers were Ryan’s constituents.

Ryan was killed when Jones’ followers opened fire on Ryan, Speier and others in the fact-finding delegation as they were boarding a plane to head back to the United States. Speier was shot five times but survived despite lying on the airport tarmac for 22 hours while waiting for medical help to arrive.

She subsequently ran and lost the special election to replace Ryan in Congress but later ran for a seat on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and won.
— David M. Drucker