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Press Enterprise reporter Jeff Horseman discusses Riverside state election races

Anthony Victoria

Riverside voters are seeing dozens of negative ads about candidates in two state races. In the 31st senate district race, current Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes squares off against Riverside Unified School District board member Angelo Farooq. Two Riverside council members Clarissa Cervantes and Ronaldo Fierro go head-to-head in the 58th Assembly district race.

Today, Press Enterprise reporter Jeff Horseman shares how fierce the competition is and what’s to come in these races.

What's making these showdowns so intriguing, especially when it comes to the ads being shared with voters?

The reason why I focused on these is because they are competitive. In the two top primaries, there's a chance that one or more of the Democrats — Fierro, the Cervantes sisters and Angelo Farooq —might get shut out. Oftentimes what we see in the top two primary is the Republican vote coalescing around the Republican candidate, and it's the top two candidates, regardless of party, advancing to the November general election. So there's some uncertainty in the outcome.

And there's also been a lot of negativity in the form of attack ads, not so much directed at the Republicans, but among the Democrats. Farooq goes after Sabrina and vice versa. And some back and forth between Clarissa and Fierro. And also some what are called independent expenditure committees, which are super PACs which have roots in Sacramento, that have sided with Fierro so far in this race.

Are these attacks personal in nature or do they revolve around campaign strategies and policy differences?

Oh, no, they are. They are definitely personal. Take the 50th Assembly District, for example. Fierro and Clarissa Cervantes are both Democrats. And if you look at their answers in our questionnaire, they are pretty similar. Fierro might be seen as more of a moderate Democrat and Clarissa is more of a progressive in that case, but that race and also the race between Sabrina Cervantes and Angelo Farooq have gotten personal, particularly with Clarissa.

If you look at a lot of the ads, they feature her mug shots from both of her DUI arrests, one in 2014, and one from last summer. And a lot of the ads seen, again funded by these independent expenditure committees, are, “You can't trust Clarissa”...“She's a two time drunk driver…She's not deserving of public office.” And Clarissa has countered that, “Fierro is beholden to special interests and is out for himself and really isn't really interested in representing the people.”

How influential are negative ads in swaying voter opinions, and do you anticipate an increase in their usage leading up to the November election?

My experience generally is people say they don't want negative ads. They don't want to see them. But, apparently they work, otherwise candidates and their supporters wouldn't be sending them. So, I do think they are probably effective on some level, whether they're effective enough to advance these candidates or at least prevent their opponents from advancing remains to be seen.

Going forward, it's gonna be interesting during these races because let's assume, for example, it's a Republican and a Democrat advancing in the 58th and the 31st. Both the 58th and the 31st are — when you look at the voter registration — they’re both pretty democratic. And so you would expect the Democrat to clean up in November. And so it's possible that while we might see a flurry of negative ads, at least in terms of the intensity and number before the primary, you might see that kind of taper off slightly going into November. Or who knows, maybe they might be as intense as ever.

Anthony Victoria is a UC Berkeley Local News Fellow reporting for KVCR News.