The Republican wave crashing across the nation stopped at the California border on Tuesday, as Jerry Brown won the governorship and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer claimed a victory that would send her back to Washington for a fourth term.
The veteran politicians, Democratic icons for decades, jumped out to early leads over wealthy former corporate chiefs Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, who were making their first forays into public life, trying to ride into office on national sourness about incumbents, the economy and President Obama’s administration.
Brown, the state’s current attorney general and its governor from 1975 to 1983, claimed victory at a boisterous rally in front of thousands at the Fox Theater in Oakland..
“It looks like I’m going back again,” Brown said. “As you know, I’ve got the know-how and the experience. This time, we have a first lady, which we didn’t have last time.”
He called for an end to the divisiveness that has torn Sacramento and Washington, D.C, and proclaimed that it was time for California to become a leader in renewable energy and education. He said he chose the theater for his victory party because it, too, underwent a renaissance after 30 years.
“I take as my challenge forging a common purpose, but a common purpose based not just on compromise but based on a vision of what California can be,” Brown said.
Whitman, who shattered spending records with her largely self-funded campaign, spoke about a half hour after Brown, and said she was proud of the campaign she had run.
“Tonight has not turned out quite as we had hoped,” she told supporters gathered in Universal City. “We’ve come up a little short but certainly not for lack of hard work, determination and a clear vision for making our state better.”
Whitman said she had called Brown to concede, a statement that drew boos from her supporters.
“It is time for Californians to unite behind the common cause of turning around this state that we love,” she said.
Boxer told supporters in Hollywood that they helped her win her most difficult re-election battle to date.
“I am thrilled,” she said. “I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for this victory after the toughest and roughest campaign of my life. This is my 11th straight election victory and what a sweet one it is.”
Boxer alternated between declaring victory and warning the crowd in Hollywood that the results were not yet final.
“Not all the votes have been counted but they are moving in our direction,” she said. “And I feel really, really good about it tonight.”
Fiorina spoke before Boxer, and while praising her own campaign efforts refused to concede to Boxer.
“The facts are it is too close to call, the facts are it’s going to be a long night,” she told supporters gathered in Irvine. “We’re going to be watching those returns all night. All those people who called the race, it was maybe not a smart thing to do.”
Voters cast ballots on a wide variety of state offices and nine propositions, the most prominent being efforts to legalize marijuana for recreational use, stall the state’s landmark climate-change law and change how the Legislature approves the state’s budget. Californians also weighed in on redistricting, taxes and a car surcharge that would benefit state parks.
But the contests that drew the most attention were the gubernatorial and senate races.
Whitman, a billionaire, shattered records by spending more than $140 million of her own money on her campaign. She unleashed a juggernaut effort akin to that seen in a presidential campaign rather than a state race, complete with lushly produced events, an unending barrage of TV advertisements and an unprecedented attempt to appeal to voters who usually side with Democrats, such as Latinos, women and nonpartisans.
But the neophyte political candidate faced a primary battle that forced her to stake out controversial positions on immigration and start negative advertising in February, which battered her likability among voters. And despite the 54-year-old’s improved ease on the campaign trail, she repeatedly stumbled, having to explain her lack of voting for most of her adult life, her residency and her employment of an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper.
Brown, who spent about $35 million and had a shoestring campaign staff, made many Democrats nervous by not campaigning until Labor Day, arguing that he had to conserve his limited resources and that voters would not pay attention until the fall. Organized labor spent tens of millions on his behalf, but allies worried that Whitman would build an insurmountable lead over the summer.
But the 72-year-old, the son of former Gov. Pat Brown, and a candidate who began his political career in 1969, remained even in the polls throughout much of the summer. After he began campaigning in earnest, his lead steadily built.
Still, the veteran politician, who is known for his unscripted manner and force-of-nature personality, also stumbled, comparing his rival’s campaign to that of a Nazi propagandist, lashing out at former President Clinton and dealing with the revelation that someone associated with his campaign called Whitman a “whore.”
During the contest, both candidates outlined plans to deal with the myriad issues facing the state, including its multibillion-dollar budget deficit and failing schools. But the plans also lacked some details, and much of the campaign discourse was driven to the controversies, particularly in recent weeks.
In contrast, the Senate campaign focused more on issues. Although Fiorina and Whitman were often portrayed as Silicon Valley sisters, Fiorina took a far more conservative path in her effort to retire Boxer. While Whitman touted her support for most abortion rights and took a moderate stance on offshore oil drilling, Fiorina opposed abortion except in cases of rape, incest or threat to the life of the mother. And she backed drilling and gun rights.
Although those stances put Fiorina on the opposite side of most Californians, the 56-year-old has relied on voters overlooking these differences because of their frustration with Boxer, whom she has painted as an extreme partisan. Although Fiorina is wealthy, she lacks Whitman’s deep financial reserves.
She contributed $6.5 million to her effort and had spent nearly $17 million by mid-October. She received at least $12 million from outside groups. Boxer spent nearly $26 million by mid-October and millions more during the final week.
The 69-year-old senator and Fiorina sparred daily about the effectiveness of Obama administration policies, including the economic stimulus and the effort to help small businesses. Boxer fashioned herself as a champion of the middle class and claimed that Fiorina would be an advocate for the wealthy, pointing to her support of the Bush tax cuts. Boxer also argued that only she would back the president -- something that California voters said they wanted in their next senator.
In recent weeks, Boxer has increasingly focused on social issues, notably abortion, arguing that Fiorina’s support for overturning Roe vs. Wade would mean criminal penalties for women who seek abortion and the doctors who provide them. In every recent speech, Boxer sought to tie Fiorina to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whose endorsement was pivotal to Fiorina’s primary win.
While other Democrats have run away from Obama, Boxer embraced him, touting his support in the final days of the campaign in television and radio ads. In a measure of how badly Democrats needed to hold on to Boxer’s seat in their hopes of keeping control of the Senate, the president visited California three times to help Boxer.
At the Universal City election party for Whitman, Republicans there tried to balance their disappointment over the California results with joy over GOP gains in contests across the nation.
“It’s a good day to be a Republican -- just not here,” said Ben Everard, 27, an attorney who chaired the Los Angeles chapter of Gen M, a volunteer group of young professionals who supported Whitman.
Times staff writer Maeve Reston contributed to this report.
Also contributing to the California election report were Sarah Ardalani, Esmeralda Bermudez, Maura Dolan, Robert Faturechi, Michael Finnegan, Carla Hall, Gale Holland, Maria L. LaGanga, Kate Linthicum, Maeve Reston, Lee Romney, David Zahniser, Alexandra Zavis.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
*--* BROWN WHITMAN Votes Votes 52.2% 42.7% 2,609,962 2,135,178 *--*
Totals as of 12:27 a.m. Pacific time with 56.0% of precincts reporting
U.S. SENATOR, CALIFORNIA
*--* BOXER FIORINA Votes Votes 50.2% 44.1% 2,498,639 2,195,458 *--*
Totals as of 12:27 a.m. Pacific time with 56.2% of precincts reporting
Republicans need 51 seats to control the Senate; Democrats need 50*
*--* DEMOCRATS REPUBLICANS UNDECIDED 51 46 3 *--*
*Vice President Joe Biden would cast tie-breaking vote
The House of Representatives
218 seats needed to control the House
*--* DEMOCRATS REPUBLICANS UNDECIDED 180 234 21 *--*
*--* Regulate, control and Suspend global Majority vote to pass tax cannabis warming act state budget Prop. 19 Prop. 23 Prop. 25 Yes Yes Yes 45% 40% 55% No No No 55% 60% 45% *--*
Totals as of 12:27 a.m. Pacific time with 56% of precincts reporting