State Sen. Ralph C. Dills (D-El Segundo), who has served longer than any lawmaker in California history, is hoping to win a seat in a newly drawn district where he is relatively unknown.
Dills faces three challengers in the 28th District, which stretches from Long Beach to Venice. He lost much of his existing district when reapportionment scrambled the political landscape two years ago, forcing him to move his voting residence from Gardena to El Segundo.
In the other Southeast-area Senate race, Sen. Charles M. Calderon (D-Montebello) is seeking election in a redrawn district but faces no opposition in the primary.
Analysts say that Dills, 84, can expect to maintain a stronghold in the 28th District's inland areas, including Compton, Carson and Wilmington. He has represented those areas at some point in his legislative and judicial career, which dates to 1938.
But by his own account, Dills is not known to as many as two-thirds of the voters in the 28th District. Many of Dills' billboards, with the slogan "Too Old to Quit" and a picture of him playing the saxophone, were placed in the beach cities that form the spine of the redrawn district.
"Fewer people know who I am than normal," said the gravel-voiced senator. "That's a disadvantage that I have to take care of."
Dills challengers are Torrance Councilman George Nakano, Venice attorney Mike Sidley and Manhattan Beach real estate broker Jo Ann Rodda.
Dills has tried to use his longevity as an asset. He helped establish Cal State Long Beach and the State Teachers Retirement System. During World War II, he refused to support the creation of Japanese internment camps.
"If people have any judgment, they will know that just because you are old, it should not be a negative," he said.
Much of the campaign also has centered on the environment, and the candidates are hoping that a strong environmental stand resonates with voters.
Dills promotes his opposition to oil field development in state tidelands. He points out that he has been praised by other senators for getting approval from the Government Organization Committee, which he chairs, for a ban on new oil drilling in state waters. And in a campaign brochure he cites legislation he is writing to save redwoods.
Nakano, 58, has attacked Dills' environmental record, including his acceptance this year of $2,500 in contributions from oil companies.
"He doesn't have much conviction in what he is doing," said Nakano, a former school administrator. "His actions are entirely political."
Nakano trumpets his endorsement from the Sierra Club and the California League of Conservation Voters. If elected, Nakano would be the first Asian American in the Senate since the 1970s. He is expected to get strong support in Torrance and among Asian American groups, analysts say.
But Nakano, like Dills, has little name recognition in the beach cities, which have 37% of the Democrats in the district.
Sidley, 32, a member of the Los Angeles County Environmental Crimes Sentencing Task Force, says that he will fight for funding of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project, a bay cleanup plan.
Rodda, 53, is running on a platform of legal reform after a bitter divorce four years ago. Her campaign calls for removing divorce from the courts and putting it in the hands of a government agency with no fees. She also proposes that the California State Bar be replaced by a consumer group.
The winner of the primary will face Republican lawyer David Barrett Cohen, who is unopposed in his party's race; Neal Arvid Donner of Los Angeles, a Libertarian Party candidate, and Cindy V. Henderson of Los Angeles, a Peace and Freedom Party challenger.
In the other state Senate race, Calderon has a lock on his party's nomination because he faces no opposition to represent the 30th District, which includes Bell Gardens, Huntington Park, South Gate, Santa Fe Springs, Whittier and Calderon's home town of Montebello.
Calderon decided to run for the seat when his current political turf, the 26th District, was cut in half during reapportionment. Montebello, Pico Rivera and Whittier are the only cities that overlap the two districts.
Calderon is seeking his second term in the Senate. He also spent eight years in the Assembly.
He will face one of two Republican candidates in the November general election.
Araceli Gonzalez, 24, a theater group manager from Cudahy, and Ken Gow, 77, a retired Rockwell International engineer from Whittier, characterized themselves as conservative Republicans who favor less regulation for businesses.