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Election 2002

Time Will Tell if It's a Democratic Sweep

November 07, 2002|Jenifer Warren | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — In vivid contrast to their fortunes nationwide, Democrats in California hovered Wednesday on the cusp of sweeping all statewide offices, a feat no political party has pulled off since 1946.

Republicans' lone hope of avoiding a shutout was the race for state controller, in which conservative state Sen. Tom McClintock remained on the heels of Democrat Steve Westly with as many as 700,000 ballots yet to be counted.

With Westly's lead a slim one, the secretary of state's office called the race a toss-up. A final, official result may be delayed until next week, as outstanding absentee and provisional ballots from the 58 counties are tallied.

But Westly, a wealthy former EBay executive and longtime Democratic Party activist, said he remains "cautiously optimistic" he will prevail, and analysts from both parties said it was likely.

"Fortunately, a lot of the votes that are outstanding are from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Alameda counties, and we think those will break our way," Westly said.

McClintock declined to be interviewed. But his campaign director, David Reade, said the lawmaker from Thousand Oaks remained hopeful of withstanding the Democratic juggernaut.

"There's a lot of counting yet to be done," Reade said. "This is not over yet."

In the other so-called down ballot races, the GOP was skunked. Democratic political consultant Darry Sragow said the results show the Republican Party is "thoroughly out of step with California, because their candidates had a great opportunity this year and could have scored some big gains."

Republicans said the results were not entirely bleak. Many took heart in the relatively modest margins of victory recorded by Democrats, except in the officially nonpartisan race for superintendent of public instruction, where state Sen. Jack O'Connell (D-San Luis Obispo) trounced Republican Katherine Smith of Anaheim.

Though incumbent Democrats Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, Treasurer Phil Angelides and Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer all won reelection, the largest margin, according to unofficial results, was 9 percentage points -- in the treasurer's race.

In the contests with no incumbents, Democrat John Garamendi became state insurance commissioner, but his Republican foe trailed by only 5 percentage points. Assemblyman Kevin Shelley (D-San Francisco) won the race for secretary of state, but his victory margin was small as well.

"If these races had been landslides, the results might have had a strong psychological impact," said GOP strategist Dan Schnur. "But because the Republican candidates ran so close, even while being outspent in some cases 3 to 1, it actually provides some encouragement moving forward."

Schnur and others, however, conceded that the failure of any Republicans to grab a statewide office -- barring a McClintock win -- leaves the GOP with a weak bench.

"Clearly, the results leave the party without a statewide leader," GOP consultant Richard Temple said. Given that vacuum, he said "everybody is talking" about Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"He's got the money and people know who he is," Temple said. "He's been proven to be effective, formidable and talented," most recently in his successful promotion of Proposition 49 on Tuesday's ballot.

In the Legislature, meanwhile, Republicans picked up two seats in the Assembly, and were hopeful that the outstanding absentee ballots might hand them a third. Also uncertain -- but tilting toward Democrats -- was the outcome of a Senate race in the San Joaquin Valley.

But for the most part, there was little mystery in the legislative races, because of a carefully scripted redrawing of district boundaries by party leaders last year: "The majority in the Assembly," Speaker Herb Wesson (D-Culver City) declared, "is still firmly in the hands of the Democrats."

Indeed, perhaps the most interesting change beneath the Capitol dome has to do with sexual orientation -- not political persuasion.

Democrats Mark Leno, a San Francisco supervisor, and John Laird, a former Santa Cruz mayor, won Assembly seats and became the first openly gay men in the statehouse. They join lesbians Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles) and Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego), both reelected in the lower house, and Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica).


Times staff writer Nancy Vogel contributed to this report.

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