SACRAMENTO — California voters cast ballots Tuesday on an array of statewide primary races, including Democrat March Fong Eu's campaign to recapture the secretary of state job she held for two decades.
Eu, the first Chinese American elected to statewide office in California, was trailing in a tight race with San Francisco Assemblyman Kevin Shelley, who enjoyed strong party support. Napa Valley winery owner Michela Alioto, who came within a whisker of beating Republican incumbent Bill Jones four years ago, was running third. Jones, who had to vacate the office because of term limits, was a GOP candidate for governor.
Voters also selected party nominees in six other statewide contests--three of them open. In the race for insurance commissioner, three well-known Democrats--Montebello Assemblyman Tom Calderon, former Orange County Assemblyman Tom Umberg and former Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi--sought their party's nomination to succeed Republican Chuck Quackenbush, who resigned almost two years ago in a wide-ranging scandal.
Political experts predict the regulator's job will go to a Democrat in the November general election, in part because lingering fallout from the Quackenbush affair is expected to taint GOP candidates. Financial contributions from insurers became a major issue in the campaign. Only Calderon took the companies' money--more than $1.5 million.
Costly Fight for Controller's Post
Garamendi took a strong early lead, trailed by Umberg and Calderon. On the Republican side, attorney Gary Mendoza appeared to be in a close contest against Stefan "Watchdog" Stitch, a man who legally changed his name to promote himself as a consumer advocate.
"In this job, the public cannot accept another Quackenbush, who is put into office by the insurance industry and then turns his back on consumers," Garamendi said.
Prominent Republicans and Democrats waged expensive primary fights for the state controller job being vacated by Democrat Kathleen Connell. On the Republican side, early returns showed state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) with a narrow lead over Board of Equalization member Dean Andal in a battle of anti-tax fighters. On the Democratic side, former EBay executive Steve Westly held an early lead against Board of Equalization member Johan Klehs.
The fight to succeed Delaine Eastin as superintendent of public instruction, a nonpartisan office, featured three candidates expected to be headed for a runoff. State Sen. Jack O'Connell (D-San Luis Obispo) and Assemblywoman Lynne Leach (R-Walnut Creek) received their party's backing in the race, and O'Connell took an early lead, but Anaheim Union High School District President Katherine Smith was commanding a significant portion of the vote.
"We have a head start," O'Connell said Tuesday night from the Democrats' election party at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. "If the trend continues, we will finish first, and finish first in November."
With the Legislature's recent redistricting, many Republican and Democrat incumbents are safely ensconced in state Senate and Assembly seats. As a result, many candidates waged a series of tough primary fights.
That included a particularly bitter San Fernando Valley campaign to replace former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, which pitted Democrats Andrei Cherny and Lloyd Levine against one another. Early returns showed the race in a dead heat.
Some of the most significant statewide offices featured only minimal competition because they are held by well-known Democratic incumbents with considerable campaign treasuries.
Some Candidates Run Unopposed
Democratic Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer faced only a token primary challenge from Emeryville attorney Michael Schmeier, while on the Republican side, state Sen. Dick Ackerman (R-Irvine) was running unopposed for the GOP nomination. Despite his relatively safe position, Lockyer continued to raise large sums, fueling speculation that he is preparing a run for governor in 2006.
Similarly, Treasurer Phil Angelides--who holds more than $4 million in campaign cash and also is a presumptive candidate for governor in 2006--was running unopposed in the Democratic primary.
In the Republican primary, early returns showed former Public Utilities Commission President P. Gregory Conlon with a slight lead over former deputy Treasurer Mary Toman in the race to face Angelides in November.
In the race for lieutenant governor, incumbent Democratic Cruz Bustamante ran unopposed in the primary. State Sen. Bruce McPherson (R-Santa Cruz) held a commanding lead over Thousand Oaks songwriter Ellie Michaels for the GOP nomination.
In San Francisco, in one of the city's most watched races for public defender--Jeff Adachi, the 42-year-old former chief attorney in that office, appeared to have defeated Kimiko Burton, the 37-year-old daughter of California state Senate President John Burton. Burton was appointed public defender last year when her predecessor left before his term was up.
Times staff writers Virginia Ellis, John Glionna, Carla Hall, Dan Morain, Massie Ritsch and special correspondent Karen Alexander contributed to this report.