Led by Gov. Jerry Brown, California Democrats finished strong across the board in Tuesday’s primary election, but Republicans performed well enough in premiere races to indicate the GOP’s long, cold political winter in the state may be thawing.
Not a single Republican currently holds statewide office in California, but voters on Tuesday provided ample support for GOP candidates running for controller and secretary of state.
Republicans also performed well in some of the state’s most contested legislative races, indicating Democrats may have an uphill battle to regain their powerful supermajorities in the state Assembly and Senate.
The real test for Republicans will come in the November general election, when the top two finishers in each primary race appear on the ballot. Unlike the crowded field of candidates in many primary races, where voter support is often splintered, most of the Republicans will face off against Democrats — in a state dominated by Democratic voters.
Nowhere was that edge more apparent than in the race for governor, where Brown far outpaced his GOP challengers. In November, Brown will face Republican Neel Kashkari, who emerged from a divisive intra-party battle with tea party darling Tim Donnelly, a Republican assemblyman from the San Bernardino Mountains.
Brown took such an early, strong lead on Tuesday that he emerged from the governor’s mansion shortly after the polls closed to proclaim victory.
“At this point, 40 years from the time I won my first primary for governor of California, I'm ready to tackle problems, not on a partisan basis but on a long-term basis of building California and making sure we're ready for the future," Brown said.
Brown, 76, was first elected governor in 1974, serving two straight terms. He was elected again in 2010.
In one of the most hotly contests for statewide office, State Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) and Pete Peterson, a Republican and executive director of a public policy think tank at Pepperdine University, topped the field in the race for secretary of state. They will face one another in November.
Another candidate, state Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), still appeared on the ballot and drew a significant number of votes even though he dropped out of the race after being indicted by federal authorities on charges of corruption and conspiracy to traffic in firearms.
With all precincts reporting, some high profile races remained too close to call Wednesday morning. Final outcomes could be days, or weeks, away as county election officials across California continue to tally late-arriving and provisional ballots.
In the race for state controller, Republican Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin topped a strong field. In the race for second place, and a spot on the November ballot, just a few thousand votes separate Assemblyman John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles); Betty Yee, a Democratic Board of Equalization member; and little-known Republican David Evans, a former California City mayor.
In the race to replace retiring Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), Republican gang prosecutor Elan Carr narrowly led a crowded field seeking to represent the strongly Democratic Westside/South Bay seat.
State Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) leads former Democratic Los Angeles Controller Wendy Greuel in the race for the second spot on November ballot, but the two are separated by just a few thousand votes.
In the hotly contested battle for an Inland Empire congressional seat vacated by retiring Rep. Gary G. Miller (R-Rancho Cucamonga), military veteran Paul Chabot, a Republican, finished at the top. Redlands' Democratic Mayor Pete Aguilar held a narrow lead for second, with Republican Leslie Gooch, a longtime aide to Miller, just a few hundred votes behind.
Republicans were the top vote-getters in a number of critical legislative primary races Tuesday, foreshadowing the difficult task Democrats may face to regain their supermajority in November. Democrats in the state Senate lost their supermajority when three Democratic lawmakers embroiled in scandal were suspended from that chamber.
In the new 14th Senate District, Sen. Andy Vidak (R-Hanford) finished far ahead of his sole challenger, Fresno Unified School Board member and Democrat Luis Chavez. The two will appear in a rematch in November.
In the 12th Senate District, Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) topped his only opponent, Shawn K. Bagley, a Democrat and produce broker from Salinas. Both are moving on to the general election in a district where Democrats dominate.
In one of the most watched Assembly races, Republican Young Kim, a former aide to Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton), narrowly outpolled Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton). The district is almost evenly split between registered Democrats (37%) and Republicans (35%). Quirk-Silva and Kim were the only contenders on the ballot, assuring they will meet again in November.