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Voters stick to center course

Times Staff Writer

For all the talk of California as a sanctuary for Democrats, the state’s voters defied that image once again this week as they overwhelmingly reelected a Republican as governor and a Democrat as U.S. senator.

Countering the state’s recent Democratic drift, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and fellow Republican insurance commissioner candidate Steve Poizner clobbered their opponents, surviving with ease a national wave of GOP losses.

At the same time, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and five other Democrats won statewide races, several of them by huge margins.

Combined, the results fit California voters’ long history of hopping back and forth between candidates of both major parties, selecting the most centrist candidates. Their nonideological independent streak has grown more pronounced in recent years, with 19% of the state’s voters no longer affiliated with either party, up from 15% four years ago.

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California’s libertarian tradition also showed in Tuesday’s balloting. Voters rejected the same abortion limits that they turned down a year ago (a parental notification rule for minors), and they spurned every social conservative on the Republican ticket.

Indeed, the Republican governor whom voters so warmly embraced (Schwarzenegger beat Democratic rival Phil Angelides by 56% to 39%, according to preliminary returns) stands largely in sync with Democrats on abortion, gay rights, the environment and more.

“This should put to bed forever the idea that a socially conservative Republican can win here,” said Tony Quinn, an election analyst for the California Target Book campaign guide. “This is very much a centrist state.”

The voters’ verdict on ballot measures was clear -- no to taxes, yes to debt. Upholding a tradition they set in the Proposition 13 tax revolt of 1978, Californians nixed four proposals to raise taxes -- even as they passed immense borrow-now-pay-later bonds for highways and other construction projects.

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Californians see state government as “a bottomless hole” of wasted money, Republican strategist Wayne Johnson said. But when weighing bond proposals, they say, “At least we’re going to get some bricks and mortar, at least we’re going to get some asphalt. At least we know what it’s going for.”

As for the candidates, Tuesday’s results showed the crucial role of personal image and money in California elections.

In a vast state where television exposure is essential for statewide candidates, Schwarzenegger’s fame and bold personality gave him a huge advantage over a suit-and-tie opponent routinely described, even by admirers, as nerdy. Angelides, a Sacramento insider whose political ties led to a lucrative career in real estate, looked on television every bit the state treasurer that he is.

“He’s not remotely telegenic,” said former Schwarzenegger political strategist Don Sipple, echoing remarks by many Angelides supporters. “He just has an off-putting persona -- kind of an air of superiority, a stridency -- a lot of characteristics that people just don’t react well to.”

Negative personal image also played a part in the Democrats’ other big defeat in California: Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante’s loss of the insurance commissioner job to Poizner. Bustamante’s legal improprieties with campaign money in the 2003 gubernatorial recall made him “damaged goods,” especially in a race for the job that Republican Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush was forced to quit in a scandal six years ago.

“That was probably the worst seat for him to run for,” Democratic pollster Ben Tulchin said.

The margin (Poizner beat the Democrat, 51% to 39%, with more than 10% favoring other candidates) suggests that Bustamante’s TV ads highlighting the rotund lieutenant governor’s weight loss failed to build voter confidence in his qualifications to regulate insurers.

Money was a major factor too. Poizner, a Silicon Valley businessman who founded a company that developed satellite technology to pinpoint cellphone users, spent about $11 million of his personal wealth on the campaign, much of it on ads slamming Bustamante, who spent $1.5 million.

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Surveying their two losses on Wednesday morning, Democrats cited heavy spending by Poizner and Schwarzenegger that their rivals lacked the wherewithal to match.

“It was a constant barrage of attack ads, especially on Cruz,” state Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres said at a candidate victory celebration Wednesday morning in Oakland. “Unless you have the money to rebut those attack ads, that’s what’s going to stick with the voters.”

Still, three Democrats romped to victory Tuesday: Feinstein, Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown in the race for attorney general, and state Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, who was elected treasurer.

And three other Democrats won tightly contested races. For lieutenant governor, voters chose Democratic Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi over Republican Tom McClintock. Democrat John Chiang defeated Republican Tony Strickland in the controller’s race. And state Sen. Debra Bowen of Marina del Rey ousted Secretary of State Bruce McPherson.

A Republican appointed to that job by Schwarzenegger -- to replace a Democrat who had resigned -- McPherson failed to leverage incumbency to overcome the state’s broad preference for Democrats.

“All things being equal in a statewide race, a Democrat will beat a Republican,” said Democratic strategist Parke Skelton, who ran Bowen’s campaign. Many voters who were weighing their choices for the obscure job, he said, would have seen McPherson as “just another white-guy Republican.”

Democrats outnumber Republicans in California, 6.7 million to 5.4 million. The state’s remaining 3.7 million voters are unaffiliated with a major party, but most often side with Democrats.

But moderate Republicans such as Schwarzenegger have bucked that trend, using support for environmental protection and stem-cell research, for instance, to distance themselves from the conservatives who dominate their party nationally. The Times exit poll found that he won 91% of the Republican vote, 53% of independents and 26% of Democrats.

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Angelides, however, failed to appeal beyond the liberals whom he courted to win the Democratic primary, largely by vowing to raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy. He won support from only 70% of Democrats, 34% of independents and 6% of Republicans.

“The Democrats,” Quinn said, “will lick their wounds for four years that they did not have a candidate who can appeal to the broad center.”

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michael.finnegan@latimes.com

Times staff writers Martha Groves, Scott Martelle, Dan Morain and Robert Salladay contributed to this report.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

How Californians voted in key races

Governor*

Schwarzenegger: 56%

Angelides: 39%

Other: 5%

**

Lieutenant Governor*

Garamendi: 50%

McClintock: 49%

Other: 5%

**

Attorney General*

Brown: 57%

Poochigian: 38%

Other: 5%

**

* Percentages are from actual returns. Uncounted absentee and provisional ballots are not included.

--

Governor

Q: When decided to vote for governor

*--* % of all Arnold Phil voters Schwarzenegger Angelides 11% Weekend or later 43% 42% 89% Before last weekend 58% 38%

*--*

*

Q: Party registration

*--* % of all Arnold Phil voters Schwarzenegger Angelides 45% Democrat 26% 70% 10% Independent 53% 34% 42% Republican 91% 6%

*--*

**

Q: Political ideology

*--* % of all Arnold Phil voters Schwarzenegger Angelides 33% Liberal 24% 69% 29% Moderate 57% 39% 38% Conservative 84% 12%

*--*

**

Q: Party and ideology

*--* % of all Arnold Phil voters Schwarzenegger Angelides 25% Liberal Democrat 18% 78% 20% Moderate Democrat 36% 61% 8% Moderate Independent 44% 42% 3% Conservative Independent 75% 13% 13% Moderate Republican 83% 18% 28% Conservative Republican 96% 2%

*--*

**

Q: Gender

*--* % of all Arnold Phil voters Schwarzenegger Angelides 50% Female 53% 42% 50% Male 59% 36%

*--*

**

Q: Race/ethnicity

*--* % of all Arnold Phil voters Schwarzenegger Angelides 75% White 62% 33% 6% Black 31% 64% 12% Latino 33% 61% 3% Asian 57% 41%

*--*

**

Q: Age

*--* % of all Arnold Phil voters Schwarzenegger Angelides 6% 18-29 43% 45% 19% 30-44 55% 39% 38% 45-64 53% 42% 37% 65 older 62% 34%

*--*

**

Q: Union affiliation

*--* % of all Arnold Phil voters Schwarzenegger Angelides 20% Member 41% 54% 8% Someone in house is mem 60% 35% 72% No one in house is mem 61% 34%

*--*

**

Q: Education

*--* % of all Arnold Phil voters Schwarzenegger Angelides 46% Less than college degree 58% 36% 54% College degree or more 55% 40%

*--*

**

Q: Annual family income

*--* % of all Arnold Phil voters Schwarzenegger Angelides 23% Less than $40,000 46% 47% 19% $40,000-$59,999 56% 39% 30% $60,000-$100,000 59% 36% 28% More than $100,000 62% 34%

*--*

**

Q: Religion

*--* % of all Arnold Phil voters Schwarzenegger Angelides 44% Non-Catholic Christian 69% 27% 27% Catholic 53% 43% 5% Jew 44% 52%

*--*

**

Q: Region

*--* % of all Arnold Phil voters Schwarzenegger Angelides 21% L.A. County 50% 45% 48% Rest of So Cal 62% 33% 13% Bay Area 37% 58% 18% Rest of Nor Cal 60% 35%

*--*

**

Q: Sexual orientation

*--* % of all Arnold Phil voters Schwarzenegger Angelides 95% Heterosexual 59% 36% 5% Homosexual/bisexual 32% 61%

*--*

**

Q: Things in California are:

*--* % of all Arnold Phil voters Schwarzenegger Angelides 62% Going in right direction 75% 22% 38% Seriously off on wrong track 30% 61%

*--*

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Lieutenant Governor

Q: When decided to vote for lieutenant governor

*--* % of all John Tom voters Garamendi McClintock 11% Weekend or later 55% 32% 89% Before last weekend 49% 47%

*--*

*

Q: Party registration

*--* % of all John Tom voters Garamendi McClintock 45% Democrat 86% 9% 10% Independent 50% 39% 42% Republican 12% 86%

*--*

Q: Political ideology

*--* % of all John Tom voters Garamendi McClintock 33% Liberal 81% 11% 29% Moderate 58% 36% 38% Conservative 17% 81%

*--*

**

Q: Party and ideology

*--* % of all John Tom voters Garamendi McClintock 25% Liberal Democrat 91% 4% 20% Moderate Democrat 80% 15% 8% Moderate Independent 62% 23% 3% Conservative Independent 19% 80% 13% Moderate Republican 26% 70% 28% Conservative Republican 5% 94%

*--*

**

Q: Gender

*--* % of all John Tom voters Garamendi McClintock 50% Female 53% 42% 50% Male 47% 48%

*--*

**

Q: Race/ethnicity

*--* % of all John Tom voters Garamendi McClintock 75% White 45% 51% 6% Black 79% 19% 12% Latino 69% 23% 3% Asian 55% 43%

*--*

**

Q: Age

*--* % of all John Tom voters Garamendi McClintock 6% 18-29 50% 37% 19% 30-44 48% 46% 38% 45-64 53% 41% 37% 65 older 46% 51%

*--*

**

Q: Union affiliation

*--* % of all John Tom voters Garamendi McClintock 20% Member 61% 34% 8% Someone in house is member 48% 49% 72% No one in house is member 46% 49%

*--*

**

Q: Education

*--* % of all John Tom voters Garamendi McClintock 46% Less than college degree 46% 48% 54% College degree or more 52% 43%

*--*

**

Q: Annual family income

*--* % of all John Tom voters Garamendi McClintock 23% Less than $40,000 52% 39% 19% $40,000-$59,999 53% 41% 30% $60,000-$100,000 47% 49% 28% More than $100,000 46% 51%

*--*

**

Q: Religion

*--* % of all John Tom voters Garamendi McClintock 44% Non-Catholic Christian 34% 61% 27% Catholic 57% 40% 5% Jew 74% 24%

*--*

**

Q: Region

*--* % of all John Tom voters Garamendi McClintock 21% L.A. County 56% 40% 48% Rest of So Cal 44% 51% 13% Bay Area 66% 28% 18% Rest of Nor Cal 49% 46%

*--*

**

Q: Sexual orientation

*--* % of all John Tom voters Garamendi McClintock 95% Heterosexual 47% 48% 5% Homosexual/bisexual 73% 20%

*--*

**

Q: Things in California are:

*--* % of all John Tom voters Garamendi McClintock 62% Going in right direction 40% 57% 38% Seriously off on wrong track 63% 29%

*--*

--

Attorney General

Q: When decided to vote for attorney general

*--* % of all Jerry Chuck voters Brown Poochigian 11% Weekend or later 59% 26% 89% Before last weekend 57% 39%

*--*

*

Q: Party registration

*--* BTR% of all Jerry Chuck voters Brown Poochigian 45% Democrat 90% 6% 10% Independent 59% 29% 42% Republican 20% 77%

*--*

Q: Political ideology

*--* BTR% of all Jerry Chuck voters Brown Poochigian 33% Liberal 86% 7% 29% Moderate 68% 27% 38% Conservative 22% 75%

*--*

**

Q: Party and ideology

*--* BTR% of all Jerry Chuck voters Brown Poochigian 25% Liberal Democrat 94% 3% 20% Moderate Democrat 86% 10% 8% Moderate Independent 74% 12% 3% Conservative Independent 21% 71% 13% Moderate Republican 40% 55% 28% Conservative Republican 11% 87%

*--*

**

Q: Gender

*--* BTR% of all Jerry Chuck voters Brown Poochigian 50% Female 59% 37% 50% Male 55% 39%

*--*

**

Q: Race/ethnicity

*--* BTR% of all Jerry Chuck voters Brown Poochigian 75% White 52% 44% 6% Black 81% 12% 12% Latino 70% 20% 3% Asian 62% 35%

*--*

**

Q: Age

*--* BTR% of all Jerry Chuck voters Brown Poochigian 6% 18-29 54% 30% 19% 30-44 54% 38% 38% 45-64 61% 35% 37% 65 older 53% 44%

*--*

**

Q: Union affiliation

*--* BTR% of all Jerry Chuck voters Brown Poochigian 20% Member 68% 28% 8% Someone in house is member 56% 39% 72% No one in house is member 53% 42%

*--*

**

Q: Education

*--* BTR% of all Jerry Chuck voters Brown Poochigian 46% Less than college degree 52% 42% 54% College degree or more 60% 36%

*--*

**

Q: Annual family income

*--* BTR% of all Jerry Chuck voters Brown Poochigian 23% Less than $40,000 61% 31% 19% $40,000-$59,999 57% 37% 30% $60,000-$100,000 53% 43% 28% More than $100,000 55% 42%

*--*

**

Q: Religion

*--* BTR% of all Jerry Chuck voters Brown Poochigian 44% Non-Catholic Christian 42% 54% 27% Catholic 62% 33% 5% Jew 75% 24%

*--*

**

Q: Region

*--* BTR% of all Jerry Chuck voters Brown Poochigian 21% L.A. County 60% 35% 48% Rest of So Cal 50% 45% 13% Bay Area 74% 19% 18% Rest of Nor Cal 59% 37%

*--*

**

Q: Sexual orientation

*--* BTR% of all Jerry Chuck voters Brown Poochigian 95% Heterosexual 54% 41% 5% Homosexual/bisexual 79% 13%

*--*

**

Q: Things in California are:

*--* BTR% of all Jerry Chuck voters Brown Poochigian 62% Going in right direction 49% 48% 38% Seriously off on wrong track 66% 25%

*--*

--

Note: Numbers may not total 100% where some answer categories are not shown. Poll results can be found at: www.latimes.com/timespoll

*

How the poll was conducted: The Los Angeles Times Poll interviewed 3,679 voters as they exited 64 polling places across California on Tuesday, Nov. 7. Precincts were chosen based on the pattern of turnout in past statewide elections. The survey was a self-administered, confidential questionnaire in English and Spanish. The margin of sampling error for the entire sample is plus or minus 2 percentage points; for some subgroups, the error margin may be 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 were conducted by Davis Research of Calabasas.


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