20-term congressman facing stiff competition in November

July 3, 2012 6:50:24 PM PDT
In the East Bay, a longtime incumbent congressman is facing his first serious challenge in nearly 40 years. This week, Pete Stark, D-Fremont, is rebooting his campaign for Congress with a new campaign manager. ABC7 talked with Stark and the fellow Democrat who is trying to take his place.

Stark lives full-time on the East Coast and comes back to his district once a month for town hall meetings. For 38 years he's coasted through re-elections, until now.

At 80, Stark still has a lot of fire, especially if a reporter asks him about age.

Matthews: Is age an issue?

Stark: No, of course not.

One of the union organizer's from Tuesday's even then tried to step in and pull Stark away. But when Stark first ran for Congress, age was most definitely an issue. He ran against an 81-year-old Democratic incumbent; Stark promised fresh ideas. Ironically, it's the same sort of message his Democratic challenger, Eric Swalwell, is using now.

"I'm confident we can put together a coalition of Democrats, Republicans and Independents who want change and a new direction in Washington, D.C.," said Swallwell, who wants to meet Stark in a debate sometime before the election. Stark is so far refusing.

Matthews: Pete, why wouldn't you debate him?

Stark: Because I'd only get stupid questions like you're asking that have nothing to do with issues. I'll talk with anybody about issues, but not about nonsense.

"Primarily he must think that he's going to be challenged on the stage and that he won't come off well," said Gale Kaye, one of five Chamber of Commerce presidents to invite Stark to debate.

Stark's old 13th Congressional District has been changed. He's now moved into the 15th District which encompasses Livermore and Dublin, more conservative communities.

"The town hall meetings that Mr. Stark has held -- and there's been numerous here in Union City -- have been well attended," said newly-appointed Alameda County Supervisor Richard Valle who defended Stark's no-debate policy.

But it's clear the campaign is struggling. This week, Stark parted with his top campaign consultant and has taken on labor leader Sharon Connu as his new campaign manager.

"I think the issue here is creating jobs in the district and delivering results for the district and the congressman wants to talk about that," said Connu.

Stark beat Swalwell by 7 points in the primary, but it was a very low turnout. Many more voters are expected in November and the race is shaping up to be one to watch.

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