Democratic Gov. Gray Davis inched past Republican Bill Simon Jr. on Tuesday to win a grudging second term amid a wave of discontent that kept voters home and gave minor parties their best showing in years.
His surprisingly narrow victory capped a gnawing night that saw the lead trade hands several times as the candidates hunkered out of sight with their families and strategists, nervously watching television and poring over election returns.
Davis, part of a potential Democratic sweep of statewide offices, finally emerged close to midnight. At just about the same time, Simon was conceding at his headquarters hotel across town.
To cheers of "four more years," Davis thanked his supporters and extended a hand to Simon, asking for a round of applause from his own partisans. "I want to thank all of California," the 59-year-old governor said. "I thank them for the opportunity to finish the job.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 07, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 8 inches; 304 words Type of Material: Correction
Photo caption -- A caption accompanying a photo of secession opponents in some editions of Wednesday's Section A misspelled the name of the executive director of the Latin American Civic Assn. Her name is Irene Tovar, not Irenen.
"I promise you to work as hard as I can," Davis said, looking more relieved than exultant. He added that it had been a long election day.
Simon, accompanied by his wife, conceded before a crowd of dispirited supporters. "It doesn't look like the numbers are going to be quite there for us this time," he said.
"I want to continue to devote myself and I know that Cindy feels the same way," said the 51-year-old Los Angeles businessman, who stumbled through his first run for public office. "To helping this great Golden State search out avenues that maybe we might be of service in the coming years."
Three Democratic incumbents--Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer and Treasurer Phil Angelides--appeared to retain their seats as a Republican wave that swept the country stopped short of the California border.
Each tallied more votes than the governor, a slap at Davis and a reversal of the usual trend that sees a falloff as voters work their way down the ballot.
Democrats Kevin Shelley and John Garamendi were leading in contests for secretary of state and insurance commissioner. The lone Republican preventing a Democratic sweep was Tom McClintock, who was running neck and neck with Steve Westly in the race for state controller.
Despite the recession, California voters appeared to be in generous spirits. They approved statewide ballot measures to fix the state's crumbling public schools and address some of California's pressing water needs.
Proposition 49, an effort by actor Arnold Schwarzenegger to promote after-school programs, won easy passage.
An initiative to allow voters to register at the polls on election day was losing. Also headed for defeat was a measure to shift a portion of the state motor vehicle tax to pay for transportation projects.In the state's most closely watched congressional race, Democratic Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza of Atwater opened a substantial lead over state Sen. Dick Monteith of Modesto in his bid to replace scandal-scarred Rep. Gary Condit (D-Ceres).
Elsewhere, attorney and Democratic labor leader Linda T. Sanchez was poised to make history by winning a newly drawn congressional seat in southeast Los Angeles County. She was leading in early returns and stands to join Loretta Sanchez, a Garden Grove Democrat, as the first sister team ever to serve in the House.
Democrats maintained their substantial advantage in the state Legislature, even with the loss of at least two Assembly seats.
But the party looked to be thwarted in its effort to pick up a state Senate seat that would have given it a supermajority of 26 in Sacramento's upper chamber.
In the governor's race, Davis and Simon were each hoping to make history in their own fashion.
The incumbent Democrat was vying to lead a party sweep down the statewide ballot. If successful, it would be the first partisan blowout since 1946, when Republicans seized every office. The last time Democrats swept was in 1882.
Simon, in turn, had been hoping to make Davis the first incumbent denied a second term since 1942, when Democrat Culbert Olson lost to Republican Earl Warren.
The contest was historic in at least one sense: The combined third-party vote may be the strongest since Commonwealth-Progressive candidate Raymond L. Haight got 13% of the vote in 1934.
Indeed, a Los Angeles Times exit poll found ample evidence of the widespread grumbling that became a soundtrack for this discontented election season.
Voters had overwhelmingly unfavorable impressions of both Davis and Simon, with roughly six in 10 expressing negative views about the two major party candidates. A like number, about 60%, disapproved of Davis' job performance over the past four years while just about half of voters said the state was heading down the wrong track.
Asked to compare the two on issues, at least a quarter of those interviewed picked neither candidate when asked who would do a better job on energy, homeland security, crime and the economy. Asked which candidate had more honesty and integrity, fully a third of voters said neither.