ALAMEDA COUNTY (KCBS)— Voters in California’s 7th District headed to the polls for a special election Tuesday, to decide a new state Senator since Mark DeSaulnier was elected to replace retired veteran Congressman George Miller.

The three-way East Bay race is tight and attracted millions of dollars in outside spending and was even subject of allegations of dirty tricks in the closing days of the campaign.

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The 7th District, stretches from the Delta to southern Alameda County’s Tri-Valley. The former congressmen, DeSaulnier and Miller both endorsed Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, a Democrat from Concord who says improving access to education would be her top priority in the Senate.

“I believe that we could do a lot to expand the Cal State system. It’s a much more inexpensive way to get college graduates through our system,” Bonilla said.

Education is also the number one issue for another prominent Democrat, former Assemblywoman Joan Buchannan.

“You see all these kids that worked hard their whole lives and have done very well in school and all of a sudden they don’t get in to a UC because there just isn’t a capacity,” she said.

Orinda mayor and former Governor Brown advisor, Steve Glazer is the third Democrat running hard in the campaign. Glazer is a self-described pragmatic problem solver who is socially progressive, but says he’s fiscally conservative.

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There is a fourth Democrat on the ballot, and one Republican, Michaela Hertle, but she has dropped out and endorsed Glazer, who’s become labor unions’ number-one enemy for campaigning to ban BART strikes.

The unions have taken to flooding mailboxes with mailers backing Bonilla and attacking Glazer.

Meanwhile, an Asian-American campaign committee that normally supports Democrats and is largely funded by unions is urging Republicans to vote for Hertle with elephant-emblazoned flyers even though she is out of the race. The reason is to keep Glazer from picking up her votes.

Glazer is benefitting from more than half a million in spending by Los Angeles businessman Bill Bloomfield. Buchanan is confident she can survive the big money crossfire and advance to a top two runoff.

“Independent expenditure committees have spent over $2 million in this primary and I’m not the beneficiary of about 90 percent of those dollars,” said Buchannan.

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Bonilla is running on her record and is fretting about Republicans pushing Glazer into the top two, but maintains she’ll be able to get things done in Sacramento.