The potential gains, a result of sweeping changes in California's political system, captivated the Capitol on a night in which there also were unprecedented battles within the state's congressional delegation.
If the Democrats achieve a supermajority, as party leaders believed likely, it would mark the first time either party has captured two-thirds of the seats in the Senate or Assembly in 34 years. It takes a two-thirds vote in each house to approve tax increases, which would have to be signed by the governor. Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) claimed early Wednesday to have achieved a supermajority in his chamber.
The election marked the first statewide test of a new set of election rules, coupled with adoption of new district lines, aimed at reducing partisan gridlock in Washington and Sacramento. The redistricting made many races more competitive and changes in state law pitted the top vote-getters in the June primary against each other, regardless of party.
Democratic leaders said a supermajority would give them greater leeway to solve the state's economic problems. "With a working two-thirds majority, the Senate can move California forward without running headlong into a recalcitrant minority party who place ideology above balanced solutions that spur job growth,'' said Sen.
One key was the 17th Senate District, where Democratic Assemblyman
In another critical battle, state Sen.
Tuesday's balloting featured a number of unusually close congressional contests that pitted some members of the same party against one another.
In the widely watched battle for a San Fernando Valley congressional seat, Rep.
In some of the tightest races for
Tuesday marked the first general election under the new rules. "The whole terrain has shifted," USC political scientist Sherry Bebitch Jeffe said. "What we now have are a great number of competitive districts but also a level of nastiness in campaigns that I have not seen before — and some of the most expensive races ever" for Congress and the Legislature.
Voting districts drawn last year by a citizens commission, along with shifting state demographics, led to competitive races in many areas that had once been safe for incumbents or a dominant party.
Congressional Democrats and Republicans battled for at least 10 of California's 53 congressional seats as part of their fight for control of the House of Representatives.
The national parties and outside groups spent more than $53 million in congressional contests around the state, dwarfing what candidates were able to garner.
Overall, races for the Legislature featured record spending — more than $20 million — by outside groups.
In Southern California, the hottest congressional contests included Democrats' efforts to expel Bono Mack and Bilbray from their posts in Riverside and San Diego counties.
Republicans set aside their differences with Maldonado over his 2009 vote, as a state senator, to raise taxes in a budget deal and rallied behind his effort to defeat Capps. She is a moderate whose remapped district went from safely Democratic to closely divided.
The new open primary system, which sends the top two finishers to a November contest regardless of party affiliation, produced 28 congressional or legislative matchups featuring two Republicans or two Democrats.
At least $13 million poured into the bitter, widely watched contest between congressional veterans Berman and Sherman, whose similar voting records left little to set them apart.
Sherman had a big advantage in the new 30th District, however. More than half his old district overlapped it.
The intraparty fight between Richardson and Hahn in the 44th District in southeast Los Angeles County drew special attention from California's African American congressional delegation.
Members worried that their ranks would shrink to three with a defeat of Richardson, who is black.
The lower house of the Legislature also had its share of hard-fought contests.
In Los Angeles, City Councilman
Bocanegra criticized Alarcon, a former state senator, over his legal troubles in their fight for the 39th Assembly District.
Prosecutors allege that Alarcon, who has pleaded not guilty, lied about where he lived so he could run for the City Council post.