Orange County Supervisor Lou Correa's announcement this week that he will run for the state's 34th Senate District seat sets the stage for a heated June 6 primary showdown with fellow Democrat Tom Umberg, an assemblyman.
With the winner facing either Assemblyman Van Tran or Assemblywoman Lynn Daucher on the Republican side, the race will probably be one of state's hottest and costliest, with estimates ranging as high as $10 million for the primary and general election, political observers say.
"It's certainly on the top of the target list both for the Democrats to hold onto it and the Republicans to capture it," said Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, a nonpartisan election guide.
The 34th District seat is being vacated by Democrat Joe Dunn, who is running for state controller.
Correa, 48, the lone Democrat on Orange County's nonpartisan Board of Supervisors, has battled uphill on proposals to spend more on social programs, such as children's health insurance.
"I feel that I can do more for Orange County in Sacramento," said Correa, a former member of the Assembly. "There are important issues being taken up in education, infrastructure and public safety.... You really have to have an advocate fighting at the state level to bring back those taxpayer dollars, and I think I can be that advocate."
Umberg expressed surprise and disappointment at Correa's decision. "I helped him get his start in politics in 1996," he said. "I had been helpful to him."
The 34th District, almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, includes Anaheim, Buena Park, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, Stanton and Westminster.
Hoffenblum said Correa's candidacy was made possible by Umberg's disclosure last year that he had a four-year extramarital affair.
"The scandal did it," he said. "It's because of this baggage that Democrats were concerned that the Republicans could pick up the seat. If it wasn't for the scandal, you wouldn't see Correa in the race."
Despite the disclosure, Umberg's camp said many of his political allies have pledged support and endorsed his reelection. Among them are Santa Ana Mayor Miguel A. Pulido, Orange County Clerk-Recorder Tom Daly, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and state Sens. Joe Dunn and Richard Alarcon.
Firefighters, sheriff's deputies and the powerful Orange County Employees Assn. supported Correa in his supervisorial race. Hearing of Correa's plan to run for state Senate didn't make them happy.
"Our reaction is that Lou's done a good job on the Board of Supervisors," said Nick Berardino, head of the Orange County Employees Assn. "We've repeatedly encouraged him to stay in that board seat and we will not support him in his Senate race."