Longtime U.S. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren cruised to a commanding lead as ballots were counted for the March 5 primary election. 

Lofgren, who is running for her 15th term in office, will face Hollister resident Peter Hernandez—the only Republican in the five-candidate primary field—in a runoff for the U.S. Congress District 18 seat in the Nov. 5 general election.

Unofficial results of the March 5 primary in the 18th District—which includes all or portions of Santa Clara, San Benito, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties—show that Lofgren received about 52% or 22,894 of the ballots cast. Hernandez received about 33% of the votes, according to the California Secretary of State’s office. 

Zoe Lofgren has represented the San Jose/South County area in Congress for nearly three decades and spoke about hopes to reform immigration laws and support new technologies. Photo: Dan Pulcrano

Democratic candidate Charlene Nijmeh, a Morgan Hill resident and tribal leader, received about 9% of the vote in the March 5 primary; Democrat Lawrance Milan received about 3%; and Democrat Luele N Kifle received about 2% of the ballots, says the Secretary of State’s website. 

Under California’s primary election rules, the top two vote getters in the March 5 primary will advance to a runoff in the November general election. 

Lofgren, a Democrat, is going on 30 years in the House of Representatives. If she wins reelection this year, she will begin her 15th consecutive term in Congress. Lofgren currently serves as ranking member on the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee. 

Nijmeh is a second-generation Muwekma Ohlone tribal leader. She is a businesswoman and a mother of five.

Nijmeh decided to run for U.S. Congress after a 2023 meeting with Lofgren’s staff that discussed her tribe’s bid for federal recognition, which, as Nijmeh tells it, derailed over the tribal leader’s refusal to forswear gambling in order to gain federal status. 

Nijmeh, who if elected would become California’s first elected indigenous representative in D.C., thinks there should be age limits on legislators.

Hernandez, who served on the San Benito County Board of Supervisors from 2018-22, has campaigned on his promise to serve no more than four terms if elected as he thinks career politicians get lost in the world of Washington and seek power for power’s sake.  

CASUAL CANDIDATE: Hernandez throws the shaka sign at his Hollister shave ice business.

Hernandez, a lifelong Hollister resident, is in fact ahead of Lofgren in the vote count in San Benito County, but not in other parts of District 18. In San Benito County, Hernandez has received 47% of the votes for the congressional seat, as of 11:27pm March 5, according to the county registrar of voters office. Lofgren has received about 42% of the vote in San Benito.

In Santa Clara County, Lofgren has won about 56% of the vote, while Hernandez has about 31%, according to the Santa Clara County elections office. 

In Monterey County, Lofgren has received about 47% of the March 5 vote, according to the Monterey County elections office. Hernandez has about 37% of that county’s votes. 

In Santa Cruz County, Lofgren leads with about 56% of the votes counted as of 9pm March 5, and Hernandez trails with about 25%. 

The campaign leading up to the March 5 election grew contentious between Lofgren and Nijmeh, whose chief of staff produced and distributed a campaign publication in the format of a newspaper to homes throughout the 18th District. 

The tabloid bore a traditional blackletter-style masthead “The South Bay Chronicle” and contained articles supportive of Nijmeh and critical of Lofgren, along with photographs and unpaid advertisements lifted from the web. 

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Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.


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