The Republican tidal wave that swept across the nation's congressional districts spilled into two of Democratic California's most hotly contested House races. In battles still too close to call, Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Pleasanton) was leading his Republican challenger and Jim Costa (D-Fresno) was trailing his GOP rival Wednesday.
Democrats fared far better in the state Legislature, picking up an open seat in the Sacramento area and a second in the Central Valley. California was one of only eight states in which Democrats added seats in a legislative house, according to data compiled by Stateside Associates, a state and government affairs consulting firm.
In three of the five competitive congressional clashes in the state, incumbents retained their seats. Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Garden Grove — the only Democrat in Orange County's House delegation — and Republican Reps. Mary Bono Mack of Palm Springs and Dan Lungren of Gold River held off challenges in the struggle for control of Congress.
After running neck and neck with Republican Assemblyman Van Tran of Garden Grove in the 47th Congressional District through much of the ballot counting Tuesday night, Sanchez ended up with a substantial 51% to 42.1% lead. Independent Cecilia Iglesias won 6.9%.
Tran wouldn't concede Wednesday, citing as many as 20,000 mail-in and provisional votes still to be counted. "Let's let the process play out longer," he said.
Sanchez said she was confident her victory would hold, in part because of the large margin.
On Wednesday, she credited her win to "a lot of hard work by a lot of volunteers" and said voters were fed up with Tran's negative campaigning. At one point, he sent out an odiferous "scratch and sniff" mailer that he said was the odor of Washington corruption.
For the first 10 of her 14 years in Congress, Sanchez said, Democrats were in the minority and she still accomplished things for her district. "We'll make it work," she said of her party's return to underdog status in the House.
In the 45th Congressional District, Bono Mack defeated Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet 51.9% to 41.8%, while American Independent Bill Lussenheide finished with 6.3%. In the 3rd Congressional District, Lungren posted a 50.6% to 42.7% victory over his Democratic challenger, physician Ami Bera. Three third-party candidates shared the rest of the vote.
It could take days or even weeks before the outcome is known in the 11th Congressional District, where, on Wednesday, Republican attorney David Harmer was trailing McNerney by 121 votes, with thousands of ballots yet to be counted.
Each candidate had 47.5% of the vote, with the rest going to American Independent David Christensen. Also up in the air was the final result in the 20th Congressional District, where Republican cherry farmer Andy Vidak was leading Costa 51.5% to 48.5%, with fewer than 2,000 votes separating them.
Democratic leaders had something to celebrate in Sacramento, where they lost no seats in either house and brought their majority to 52 in the 80-member Assembly. That's still two short of the supermajority needed to pass taxes without Republican help. But that shortcoming is less important now that voters have approved Proposition 25, which allows budgets to be approved with simple majorities.
State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, noting that control of legislatures switched from Democratic to Republican in at least six other states in this week's elections, called the outcomes in California "astounding."
"California is kind of a Democratic island unto itself," said Jaime Regalado, director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute at Cal State LA. He said the tough contests for governor and U.S. senator also helped boost Democratic turnout.
Democrats' gains came in Assembly District 5, where medical school professor Richard Pan of Sacramento beat Republican attorney Andy Pugno, 49.1% to 46.1%. The other seat that slid into Democratic hands was Assembly District 31, where Fresno Councilman Henry T. Perea beat Republican Brandon Shoemaker, 59.5% to 40.5%.
Republicans held on to seats elsewhere, including in the 59th Assembly District, where conservative small businessman and Minuteman Tim Donnelly beat Chaffey College instructor Darcel Woods, 57.3% to 37%. In Orange County, the 68th Assembly District stayed in the GOP column when Costa Mesa Mayor Allan Mansoor defeated Democrat Phu Nguyen, 56.3% to 43.7%.
In Senate District 28, voters chose the late Sen. Jenny Oropeza (D-Long Beach) over Republican John Stammreich 58.4% to 35.7%, the rest going to Libertarian David Ruskin. A special election will be called after the new term begins next year.