Campaign’s End Brings a Scramble for Votes
Squabbling to the end, Steve Westly and Phil Angelides stormed across the state in a final burst of campaigning Monday as millions of Californians mulled their choice in today’s Democratic primary for governor.
The combination of a tight race and an unusually high number of late-deciding voters added suspense and, for the candidates, urgency to the campaign’s closing hours.
Traveling the breadth of Los Angeles by bus, Westly, the state controller, greeted voters one by one at restaurants, subway stations and a supermarket, with a stop at Olvera Street to make tortillas.
Angelides, the state treasurer, covered more ground. He chartered a Boeing 737 and flew from San Diego to Burbank and Oakland, then drove to Sacramento. At each stop, he showcased his union support with boisterous rallies.
Also swarming California on Monday were scores of other candidates, many of them elected officials forced by term limits to find a new job. The scramble has led to hotly contested Democratic primaries for attorney general, lieutenant governor, controller and secretary of state, and tight Republican races for treasurer and controller.
Like Westly and Angelides, candidates in those races and others still lower on the ballot targeted voters with phone calls and taped messages on their answering machines, along with one last pile of mail, much of it slashing at opponents.
Secretary of State Bruce McPherson predicted that just 38% of California’s 15.7 million registered voters would cast ballots. About 1.3 million have already voted by mail. For those who have not, neighborhood polling stations are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Those who do not belong to a political party can vote on ballot measures and in nonpartisan local races. To vote in a party primary, they must request a Democratic, Republican or American Independent ballot.
If McPherson is correct, the vote would be slightly higher than in 1994 and 2002, the lowest turnouts for gubernatorial primaries in decades. Counting the ballots may be slowed, however; in Alameda County, the most Democratic of the state’s populous counties, officials were to count votes by hand due to complications with electronic voting machines.
Though the governor’s race was the most contentious, the most closely watched contest in California in terms of national politics was the special election in San Diego County to replace former U.S. Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, a Republican now in prison for taking bribes.
Hobbled by the Iraq war, high gasoline prices and other troubles, Republicans have spent millions of dollars trying to keep Democrats from taking the seat in what is usually a safe Republican district. The top two contenders are Democrat Francine Busby and Republican Brian Bilbray.
In other congressional races, few incumbents face obstacles to reelection. But Democrats facing spirited primary challenges include Rep. Bob Filner of San Diego, Rep. Lynn Woolsey of Petaluma and Rep. Jane Harman of Venice, whose vote to authorize the Iraq war sparked the candidacy of antiwar challenger Marcy Winograd of Marina del Rey.
On the Republican side, Rep. Richard W. Pombo of Tracy faces a primary challenge from GOP maverick Pete McCloskey, 74, a former Bay Area congressman known for crusading against the Vietnam War in his 1972 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. (He lost to incumbent Richard Nixon.) If Pombo survives the primary, he would probably become the Democrats’ No. 1 target among California Republicans in Congress.
Also on the ballot today are primaries for state Senate and Assembly and a slate of local races, including county sheriff, assessor and supervisor.
In Orange County, Sheriff Michael S. Carona faces one of his lieutenants and a Los Angeles County sheriff’s commander. The race is being closely watched because Carona’s department has been battered by a series of scandals, including hiring political allies as assistant sheriffs, one of whom quit after his son was arrested for sexual assault and the second of whom was indicted on charges of bribery and misusing county resources.
Statewide, two ballot measures are up for a vote: Proposition 81, a $600-million bond issue to build and fix libraries, and Proposition 82, filmmaker Rob Reiner’s plan to establish free preschool for 4-year-olds by raising income taxes on those making more than $400,000 a year.
But dominating the election is the fight between Angelides and Westly for the Democratic nomination to face Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in November. After weeks of trashing each other in TV commercials, the two scaled back their negative ads on the campaign’s last day, even as the vitriol continued in public remarks by the candidates and their supporters.
Angelides, who has tried to corner the party’s liberal base, spent much of the day trying to stir up enthusiasm among organized labor. With the backing of most of California’s unions, he is counting on their political muscle to draw supporters to the polls.
Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, said union members were still “fired up” over Schwarzenegger’s ballot fight with labor in the special election last November. But “there is a certain amount of election fatigue.”
A main theme for Angelides on Monday was his call for higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy to generate money for schools, healthcare and other public services.
“I want our state to be a model of progressive action for the nation,” he told 200 union members at a union hall near L.A.'s MacArthur Park.
His surrogates went after Westly, mainly for television ads that used Angelides’ history as a Sacramento developer to question his environmental record. Most vexing to the Angelides camp was a Westly ad suggesting that Angelides sanctioned the dumping of sludge into Lake Tahoe. There is no evidence Angelides knew of the 1989 dumping of marina silt into the lake.
State Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez said Westly’s attacks showed a lack of character. “Shame on you, my friend,” Nunez told the Los Angeles labor gathering. Another Angelides supporter, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), called on Westly’s campaign to apologize for its “trash talk” and “over-the-top negative tactics.”
But the Westly campaign did not apologize, and a 15-second version of the Lake Tahoe ad continued airing. Westly also defended it in remarks to reporters on Olvera Street, saying the state sued Angelides for dumping sludge “into one of the cleanest lakes in the world.”
But Westly’s main focus Monday was electability. At stop after stop, he argued that he stands the best shot at toppling the incumbent. Independent polls have consistently shown him running stronger against Schwarzenegger than Angelides.
“Democrats are hungry for someone who can beat Arnold Schwarzenegger,” he said on Olvera Street.
During the morning rush hour, Westly greeted commuters at Union Station, then rode the subway to North Hollywood, greeting voters in trains along the way. In Northridge, he worked the breakfast crowd at Brent’s Delicatessen. At a Ralphs in Encino, he bought a sack of apples and bagged groceries. At Farmers Market, he bought more apples, along with some caramel popcorn.
Westly spent much of the day running through his resume, highlighting his work on alternative energy sources under President Carter, his stint as an early executive at the Internet auction firm EBay, and his part-time teaching job at Stanford University.
As the campaigns got in their final jabs, the candidates’ advisors were quietly planning for the two men to appear together -- no matter who wins the nomination -- at a “unity” event Wednesday morning in L.A.
“There have been tough, even bruising primaries before, and the party has come together,” Westly campaign manager Jude Barry said. “It’ll happen this year, because the No. 1 goal is to beat Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
Times staff writer Michael Finnegan contributed to this report.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Polls will be open today from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. If you are registered to vote with a political party, you may vote in partisan races only for candidates running from the party with which you are registered.
The following political parties are allowing voters who are not registered with a party to request and vote their party’s ballot:
* American Independent Party
* Democratic Party*
* Republican Party*
*all candidates except county Central Committee candidates
To find your polling place, call your local elections office or (800) 345-VOTE. Online, go to www.ss.ca.govand click on “Find Your Polling Place.”
Elections officials can be reached at the following numbers:
* Los Angeles County: (562) 462-2748
* Orange County: (714) 567-7600
* Riverside County: (951) 486-7200
* San Bernardino County: (909) 387-8300
* Ventura County: (805) 654-2664