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California Chief's Race Headed to Run-Off Between Torlakson, Tuck

The state superintendent's race in California is headed to a run-off, with incumbent Superintendent Tom Torlakson and challenger Marshall Tuck now set to face each other again in the Nov. 4 general election.

Torlakson and Tuck were the top two vote-getters out of the three superintendent candidates on the ballot. But Torlakson, despite topping the poll with nearly 47 percent of the vote, needed to get a majority of the votes cast in order to avoid the run-off. Tuck came in second with a little less than 29 percent of the vote, and Lydia Gutierrez came in third with just over 24 percent. The need for a general election campaign means the battle between the unions supporting Torlakson and the so-called "education reform" advocates lining up behind Tuck will continue, and probably intensify.

Statistically at least, the relatively strong performance of Gutierrez, who received comparatively little media attention as the anti-common-core candidate in the race, may have hurt Torlakson's bid to break the 50 percent mark. In 2010, by contrast, when Torlakson was first elected, there were 12 candidates in the primary election in California.

For what it's worth, Tuck's campaign had clearly played the expectations game to focus on a run-off, rather than an outright victory on June 3. In a May 30 press release, the challenger's campaign said it was "well poised" to force Torlakson into a run-off, "despite [the] onslaught of false attack ads and the millions of spending from Sacramento unions being poured into the race" against Tuck. In fact, Tuck has made union spending such a major issue that he has cried foul about it in a more formal way, stating in an ethics complaint last month that certain union-backed ads were misleadingly called "issues advocacy" even though they were designed to boost a candidate, namely Torlakson.

Between what their own campaigns have raised, as well as independent expenditures on their behalf, the election has involved millions of dollars already. The large trough of dollars in the race has been a significant theme in media coverage, as this puckish image in an L.A. Weekly article about the primary election results demonstrates:

Dollars aside, one key question is whether the political ground game and get-out-the-vote efforts of the California teachers' unions will prove decisive. Can Tuck match that kind of political infrastructure in a general election campaign?

Here's another factor: Although state Republicans now have their candidate, Neel Kashkari, based on the June 3 primary results, it's not clear that the California gubernatorial race will be the kind of closely-fought contest between Kashkari and Gov. Jerry Brown (D) that will generate broad political interest and bring attention to other races. How will that affect interest in, and turnout for, the superintendent's race?

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