Dashing toward an unprecedented fourth term, Gov. Jerry Brown romped to victory in Tuesday's state primary and in November will face Republican Neel Kashkari, who emerged from a fractious intra-party battle to win a chance to take on the incumbent.
Kashkari and Tim Donnelly fought late into the night for the opportunity to challenge Brown, but Donnelly conceded the race nearly four hours after the polls closed.
Brown's commanding lead was a reflection both of Democratic dominance in California and widespread approval of his tenure. Emerging from the historic governor's mansion in Sacramento after the polls closed, the incumbent proclaimed victory.
"What won this election tonight is curing a $27-billion deficit, keeping my promise not to raise taxes unless the people themselves voted for it and bringing government close to the people," said Brown, 76, who was first elected governor in 1974.
Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury official and first-time candidate, said the incumbent has failed the state, pointing to high levels of unemployment, failing schools and poverty.
"Jerry Brown is not going to be able to ignore me. And I'm going to make him answer for his failure to help middle-class families," Kashkari, 40, said in an interview at a Corona del Mar theater. "And when I force him to answer, the whole country is going to see that he has no answer."
The Laguna Beach resident acknowledged that Brown would prove a challenging rival.
"It's going to be hard. Don't get me wrong," said Kashkari, 40. "Jerry Brown is going to have more resources than we are."
Donnelly, a 48-year-old assemblyman from San Bernardino, told his supporters shortly before midnight that he had called Kashkari to concede.
He said he was disappointed to see the numbers turning against his favor, but was heartened by what a "rag-tag band of patriots" was able to pull off.
"We're happy warriors, we are not going to cry in our milk or our beer or anything else."
Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom — Democrats widely expected to seek higher office in coming years — easily outpolled their competitors Tuesday. Newsom will face former state GOP Chairman Ron Nehring in the fall, with Harris' competitor undetermined in early returns.
All eight statewide constitutional offices were on Tuesday's ballot. In the closely watched secretary of state's contest, Democrat Alex Padilla, a state senator, and Republican Pete Peterson, executive director of a civic institute at Pepperdine University, emerged as the two finalists.
In the insurance commissioner contest, Democratic incumbent Dave Jones will face Republican state Sen. Ted Gaines, and in the treasurer's race termed-out Controller John Chiang, a Democrat, will compete against GOP accountant Greg Conlon. Races for superintendent of public instruction and controller remained too close to call late Tuesday.
Voters approved two statewide ballot measures: a $600-million affordable housing program for veterans and a proposal that would require local governments to pick up the tab for public access to agency meetings and records.
At stake in Sacramento was one-party domination — voters on Tuesday determined whether Democrats were able to retain a two-thirds super-majority in the state Assembly, and were able to regain that status in the state Senate.
Voters also cast ballots in 53 congressional races, notably the Westside battle to replace retiring liberal stalwart Henry Waxman. Los Angeles County voters saw rare opportunities to elect a new sheriff and two new members of the county Board of Supervisors.
Statewide, legislative and congressional races were closely watched in part to see the effects of recent changes — the independent drawing of district boundaries and the so-called jungle primary, in which the top two vote-getters in a June primary advance to a November runoff, regardless of political party.
Yet the turnout appeared to be pitifully low, partly because the gubernatorial race was far less competitive or visible than any in recent memory.
Brown has had little incentive to engage his challengers throughout the spring. With a huge financial edge and strong support from Democratic and independent voters — and more Republicans than is typical for an opposite-party governor, polls show — Brown has long been the favorite for reelection in November.
Politically, his strength has been extended by the absence of well-known or well-financed competition. Unlike elections past, there was on the ballot no Republican movie star, like 2003 and 2006 candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger, or free-spending billionaire, like Meg Whitman in 2010.
Donnelly and Kashkari represented two vastly different alternatives for Republicans battling for relevance at a time when the state party finds itself at a historic low among registered voters.
Donnelly first drew attention years ago as a leader of the volunteer Minuteman border-patrol group. Until this election, he was most famous for trying to bring a loaded gun onto a plane at LA/Ontario International Airport. (Donnelly, who remains on probation for the 2012 incident, has said he forgot that the weapon was in his carry-on bag).
Donnelly had not aired a single television ad, and spent much of his campaign barnstorming the state in a borrowed RV decorated. In California, where television is considered critical to reaching the state's 38 million residents, such by-the-bootstraps efforts have not traditionally been successful in statewide contests. But Donnelly made a series of missteps that prompted big-name Republicans to denounce him. He compared President Obama's gun policies to those of Adolf Hitler and tried to link Kashkari, a Hindu of Indian descent, to fundamentalist Islamic law. .
Kashkari has the backing of every mainstream Republican who has weighed in on the race, including 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Kashkari, whose liberal views on abortion and same-sex marriage are in line with the state's electorate but not with California Republicans, has focused his campaign on the economy and education.
But he has faced a number of hurdles — he is a multimillionaire, which invited comparisons to billionaire Meg Whitman, who spent $144 million of her own money to lose to Brown in 2010.
Kashkari lacked Whitman's wealth, but put $2 million — or 40% of his stated net worth — into his gubernatorial bid by late May. Kashkari's resume as a former investment banker who ran the Wall Street bank bailout known as TARP was a hard sell for many Republican voters, as was his 2008 vote for President Obama.
Kashkari raised $4.1 million, including his contribution.
Although it was a negligible amount for a statewide contest, it allowed him to target likely Republican voters with a flurry of mailers over the last four weeks.
He also repeatedly aired a television ad in which he chopped logs and obliterated a toy train that symbolized Brown's high-speed rail project, dubbed by Kashkari the "crazy train."
He also reveled in his non-politician status — while trotting out his endorsement from veteran political figures — and promised to move welfare recipients into jobs.
A USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll found Kashkari gaining momentum as election day neared — and at the same time found Brown enjoying enormous advantages going into the fall contest. Still, on Tuesday, the incumbent said he took nothing for granted.
"Fortune is fickle," Brown declared.
Times staff writers Jack Leonard, Maeve Reston and Paige St. John contributed to this report. Leonard reported from Corona del Mar, Reston from Hollywood and St. John from Sacramento.