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Angelides Claims Primary Victory

Times Staff Writer

After months of vitriolic campaigning, state Treasurer Phil Angelides staked a narrow but steady lead over state Controller Steve Westly in the Democratic primary for governor and claimed victory early Wednesday. Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown won the party nomination for attorney general and voters rejected a universal preschool initiative.

Facing no serious opposition, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger easily won the Republican nomination for a second term.

Angelides told supporters arrayed in Sacramento after midnight that he would “hit the road tomorrow as the Democratic nominee for governor.”

“You have given me the chance to fight for the California of our dreams, and I will not let you down,” he declared.

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But Westly refused to concede, even as the mounting returns showed Angelides maintaining his lead.

Earlier in the evening, Angelides had visited with his supporters and struck the main themes of his campaign.

“I believe we can give hardworking families a chance to climb the ladder of success,” he told a crowd of flag-waving backers. “I believe we can give our kids the best education in the world. I believe it is time for a governor that California can count on to stand up for hardworking people.”

Westly, too, appeared before cheering supporters in Los Angeles. “Get ready for a late evening, but I’m feeling positive,” Westly told the crowd at the Westin Bonaventure downtown.

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The climate for Tuesday’s election was great voter discontent at the direction of the state and nation, with high gasoline prices, immigration and the Iraq war among the top concerns.

A gauge of the national mood Tuesday -- and possible precursor of November’s midterm election -- was the San Diego County congressional race to fill the seat vacated by former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who was convicted in a corruption scandal.

The first wave of returns for the special election showed Republican Brian Bilbray holding a single-digit lead over Democrat Francine Busby in what would have been a romp for the GOP candidate in most years.

In the Democratic primary for attorney general, Brown led Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, who was making his first run for statewide office, from early in the evening. Delgadillo, who conceded late Tuesday, had faced an uphill fight from the start against the former governor and three-time presidential candidate, a household name to Californians for decades.

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“We knew this was going to be a tough race when we got into it, and we gave it our all. But we’ve come up just a bit short,” Delgadillo told supporters at a downtown hotel.

In November, Brown will face Republican nominee Chuck Poochigian, a Fresno state senator who is also little known to most Californians but who has raised enough money to mount a serious campaign against the Oakland mayor.

Another loser in Tuesday’s election appeared to be filmmaker Rob Reiner, whose latest ballot measure, Proposition 82, was failing in early returns. It called for raising income taxes on the wealthiest Californians to establish free preschool for all 4-year-olds. Also behind was Proposition 81, a $600-million bond issue to build and repair libraries.

In other races, early returns found that:

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* Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante was heading to a wide margin of victory in the Democratic contest for insurance commissioner. But rival John Kraft, who ran virtually no campaign, was winning nearly a third of the vote, a sign of potential trouble in Bustamante’s fall race against Republican Steve Poizner, a Silicon Valley millionaire.

* State Sen. Debra Bowen of Marina del Rey was leading Sen. Deborah Ortiz of Sacramento in the Democratic primary for secretary of state. The winner will face Republican incumbent Bruce McPherson in November.

* Another cliffhanger was occurring in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, as state Sen. Jackie Speier of Hillsborough and Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi were locked in a tight race, and state Sen. Liz Figueroa of Sacramento was trailing badly. The winner will face Republican nominee Tom McClintock, a Thousand Oaks state senator.

* In the GOP primary for controller, no clear front-runner emerged in the match between state Sen. Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria and former Assemblyman Tony Strickland of Moorpark. In the race for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Joe Dunn of Santa Ana was trailing State Board of Equalization member John Chiang.

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* State Supt. of Public Instruction Jack T. O’Connell, a Democrat, appeared headed toward reelection, getting more than half of the vote in the nonpartisan race, which is enough to avert a runoff.

* In the Republican race for treasurer, Board of Equalization member Claude Parrish was leading state Assemblyman Keith Richman of Northridge. The winner will face Democratic nominee Bill Lockyer, now attorney general.

The election also set the field for the fall U.S. Senate race, with Democratic incumbent Dianne Feinstein heavily favored over Republican challenger Richard Mountjoy of Monrovia, a former state senator and leader of the state party’s conservative wing.

Across the state, officials reported a few troubles in Tuesday’s voting -- polling stations that opened late, paper jams in ballot machines and other “standard election day hiccups,” said Ashley Snee Giovannettone, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state.

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One big glitch was in the Bay Area, where Alameda County was facing an unusually slow ballot count that threatened to delay statewide results until early today. The county, which includes Oakland and the surrounding area, is home to more than 382,000 registered Democrats -- about 6% of the party’s voters in the state.

The problem was voting machines. The state required the county to scrap its touch-screen machines earlier this year, because they could not produce a paper trail of votes cast, said Guy Ashley, a spokesman for the county’s registrar of voters. So the county reverted to optical-scan paper ballots. Tuesday night, the ballots were to be taken from 830 polling stations to a central site to be inserted, one by one, into 60 scanners to tally the vote, Ashley said.

Statewide, turnout was light, although it was too soon to say whether it met projections of a little more than a third of California’s 15.7 million registered voters. A huge chunk of the vote came in mail-in ballots, further depleting Tuesday’s ranks.

Los Angeles voter Maria Vasquez, 60, surveyed the deserted polling station at the Islamic Center on Vermont Avenue. “There’s nobody here,” she said.

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For many, the election’s main draw was the Democratic contest for governor, a race so spiteful that many Californians cringed at the choice they faced.

In TV ads, Westly portrayed his foe as a former developer who polluted Lake Tahoe, bulldozed wetlands and took campaign money from oil firms.

Angelides, in turn, depicted Westly as an untrustworthy politician who broke his vow not to run negative ads, rewarded a corrupt campaign donor with state favors and backed Schwarzenegger’s school and healthcare cuts.

Ads by both Democrats were short on context. In some cases, they misled voters, who were forced to sort out accusations by each man that the attacks from the other were dishonest. In the end, the vicious back-and-forth gave Schwarzenegger a head start in defining his Democratic challenger in negative terms.

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“It’s hurt the Democrats’ chance of beating Schwarzenegger in the fall,” said Gary C. Jacobson, a UC San Diego political science professor.

The bitter campaign seemed to hurt both candidates Tuesday, with voters expressing no great enthusiasm for either Angelides or Westly, according to a Los Angeles Times exit poll.

Only about half of those who cast ballots said they very strongly or even fairly strongly supported their candidate, the survey found. Angelides had slightly more solid support than Westly. But Westly had a slightly better image among Democratic primary voters.

The mud fight also came at a time of California voter fatigue, brought on mainly by the 2003 recall and last fall’s special election, called by Schwarzenegger. With their bland personalities, Angelides and Westly each struggled to captivate voters. The dry nature of their state finance jobs heightened the challenge.

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But neither lacked the fierce ambition that any serious candidate for governor requires.

Angelides, 52, spent years laying the groundwork for his campaign. A former Sacramento home builder and state Democratic chairman, he won the job of state treasurer in 1998 and coasted to reelection in 2002.

The post’s duties, like overseeing state debt, are obscure, but Angelides still used the job to polish his political credentials.

As a member of state pension fund boards, he worked hard to build his standing on the environment: He pressured big corporations to take steps against global warming and promoted billions of dollars in investments in solar power and other alternative energy sources.

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An important turning point for Angelides was Schwarzenegger’s victory in the recall. When the governor took office, Angelides immediately staked his ground as Schwarzenegger’s loudest critic, even as Westly and other Democrats were more accommodating to a leader who was then immensely popular. Ever since, Angelides has cited his early willingness to stand up to Schwarzenegger as testament to the strength of his principles.

His top assets in the campaign have been organized labor and top elected officials, such as U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. On Tuesday, unions put 5,000 volunteers on the street for Angelides, said the California Labor Federation.

To counter labor’s army of volunteers, Westly’s main weapon was money: The former EBay executive, who reported more than $225 million in personal income over the last decade, poured more than $35 million of his fortune into his campaign.

Like Angelides, Westly has spent decades building ties with players in the state Democratic Party. He was vice chairman of the party in the late 1980s.

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His base is the Silicon Valley. A former investment banker, Westly, 49, served as a manager at several dot-com companies. The last one, EBay, made him an instant tycoon when its stock went public.

In 2002, Westly left EBay and spent millions of dollars in his campaign for controller, a job he won by a margin of less than 1 percentage point. In the race for governor, he has taken credit for collecting billions of dollars in unpaid taxes as controller.

For months, he has used those efforts -- and his pledge to raise taxes only as a “last resort” -- to contrast himself with Angelides, who has made his plan to increase taxes on corporations and the wealthy a central focus of his campaign.

It was largely the tax issue that enabled Westly to position himself as the more moderate Democrat in the race. That, in turn, led to a series of polls showing that he would perform better against Schwarzenegger than Angelides would. Westly’s campaign used those polls to argue to the end that he was the one candidate who could reclaim the governor’s job for Democrats.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Exit poll: The governor’s race

Democratic primary

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Q: Why did you vote for your candidate for governor?*

*--* Phil Angelides voters Steve Westly voters

Has strong leadership 20% Has strong leadership 24% qualities qualities Has a clear vision of 20% Can win in November 22% California’s future

*--*

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Q: Which issues were most important to you in deciding how you would vote?*

*--* Angelides voters Westly voters

Education 43% Education 37% Healthcare 33% Healthcare 25%

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* Top two answers in a multiple-response question.

Q: When did you decide for whom you would vote?

*--* Angelides voters Westly voters

Today 16% 18% Over the weekend 14% 17% Before the weekend 70% 65%

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*--*

Q: How strong was your support for your candidate?

*--* Angelides voters Westly voters

Very strong 26% 20% Fairly strong 30% 28% Moderate 43% 51%

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*--*

The voters’ mood (Among all voters)

Q: What is your impression of:

*--* Favorable Unfavorable Arnold Schwarzenegger 54% 46% Phil Angelides 44% 56% Steve Westly 50% 50%

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*--*

Q: Do you approve or disapprove of the way Schwarzenegger is handling his job as governor?

*--* Approve Disapprove All voters 49% 51% Republicans 84% 16% Independents 43% ! 57% ETR Democrats 18% 82%

*--*

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Q: Would you say that Schwarzenegger has been a decisive leader while serving as governor of California or not?

Decisive leader: 54%

Not a decisive leader: 46%

Q: Do you think things in California are generally:

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Going in the right direction: 48%

Seriously off on the wrong track: 52%

Q: What do you think is the best solution to the state’s budget shortfall?

Cutting services: 28%

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Raising taxes 15%

Combination of both 57%

Note: Based on preliminary exit poll results. Numbers may not total 100% where multiple responses were accepted or some answer categories are not shown. Poll results can be found at: www.latimes.com/timespoll

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How the poll was conducted: The Times Poll interviewed 2,833 voters (including 848 voting in the Republican primary and 1,784 in the Democratic primary) as they exited 64 polling places across the state Tuesday. California has a modified open primary in which declined-to-state voters are permitted to vote in partisan primaries; they are included among the poll’s Democratic and Republican primary voters. Precincts were chosen based on the pattern of turnout in past statewide primary elections. The survey was a self-administered, confidential questionnaire in English and Spanish. The margin of sampling error for the entire sample of primary voters statewide is plus or minus 2 percentage points; for Democratic and Republican primary voters it is 3 percentage points. For some subgroups, the error margin may be somewhat higher. The survey was adjusted to account for absentee voters and those who declined to participate when approached using actual returns, demographic estimates collected by interviewers, and a pre-election survey of absentee voters. Interviews at the precinct level were conducted by Davis Research of Calabasas.

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Source: L.A. Times Poll

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*--* Democratic Gov. Primary Prop. 82 Angelides 48% Yes 41% Westly 44% No 59% 66% of precincts reporting 66% of precincts reporting

*--*

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CONTRIBUTORS

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Also contributing to election night coverage were Times staff writers Jonathan Abrams, Juliet Chung, Lynn Doan, Megan Garvey, Arin Gencer, John M. Glionna, Michelle Keller, Patrick McGreevy, Paul Pringle, Valerie Reitman, Lee Romney, Catherine Saillant, Robert Salladay, Nancy Vogel and Nancy Wride.


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