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Democrats urge reelection of dead Long Beach senator

A week after the death of state Sen. Jenny Oropeza (D-Long Beach), Democrats have sent mailers to residents urging them to vote to reelect her. That would trigger a special election and give the party a chance to put up a new candidate.

The mailers featuring Secretary of State Debra Bowen and Democratic Party general counsel Martha Escutia do not say explicitly that Oropeza has died or that a vote for her will allow another Democrat to be considered.

"Senator Jenny Oropeza’s illness has been a tragedy," Escutia wrote in one. "Her strength through her struggle inspired us all."

"The Republicans are trying to take unfair advantage of Jenny’s tragedy," the mailer adds. "They suggest that voting for Jenny will only result in a costly Special Election. I am asking you to vote for Jenny Oropeza. If a Special Election is called in a few months, you’ll have the chance to thoughtfully elect your Senator for a new four-year term."

Bowen’s mailer, paid for by the California Democratic Party, is much the same, but adds, "You have a right to vote for her."

Oropeza died after a long illness Oct. 20, which was past the deadline to replace her on the ballot for the 28th Senate District. The predominantly Democratic district includes parts of Los Angeles, Long Beach and the South Bay.

Republican candidate John S. Stammreich said Friday that he understands why Democrats are asking for people to vote for Oropeza, even though "it’s kind of creepy voting for someone who is dead."

What he objects to is the claim in the mailer that he is trying to take unfair advantage of the situation. "It’s misleading in a sense that I haven’t changed my strategy one bit," the aerospace contracts manager said. Also on the ballot is Libertarian David Ruskin, a physician.

Jason Kinney, a spokesman for Senate Democrats, defended the mailers, which he said cost about $90,000. "Given the tragic and highly unusual circumstances of this race, Senate Democrats felt an obligation to directly communicate to voters in Senator Oropeza’s district that voting for Senator Oropeza on Tuesday was the best way to ensure they ultimately have a real, meaningful choice about who will serve them in the Senate for the next four years," Kinney said.

Stammreich said he thinks Oropeza’s death was not mentioned in the mailers because voters are not likely to cast ballots for someone who they know has passed away. Asked why the mailers do not say explicitly that Oropeza has died, Kinney said "the careful wording was an effort to be both delicate and sensitive to the circumstances."

-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

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