SACRAMENTO — Most legislative races headed toward lopsided and predictable finishes Tuesday, leaving the state Assembly and Senate in firm Democratic control, but Republicans appeared poised to gain an additional seat in the state Senate.
In a hotly contested race for Senate District 34, which includes parts of Santa Ana and Anaheim, Republican Lynn Daucher -- now an assemblywoman from Brea -- held a lead over Orange County Supervisor Lou Correa.
Correa, a moderate Democrat, had been recruited by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) to run in a district that had gradually grown more Republican over the last eight years. Last elected there was Democrat Joe Dunn of Santa Ana, who was forced out by term limits.
As poll results rolled in, Perata downplayed the significance of a potential lost seat, saying that Democrats hold enough of a majority to pass most bills without Republican votes.
"Whether there are 26 or 25 Democrats doesn't really make that big of a difference on the policy level," he said.
But Senate Republican Leader Dick Ackerman of Irvine said another Republican vote, plus the movement of several moderate Assembly members to the Senate, would make the Senate less likely to approve new taxes or regulations.
"It used to be the Senate was the ultra-left," Ackerman said. "Next year I think the Assembly is going to be ultra-left, and we're going to be more the house of reason and much more pro-business."
In the most heated Assembly race, Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia (R-Cathedral City), led Democrat Steve Clute with half of precincts reporting.
Early returns put Democrat Cathleen Galgiani ahead of Republican Gerard Machado for an open Assembly seat in a district that includes Stockton.
In other competitive races, incumbent Assemblywoman Shirley Horton (R-Chula Vista) led by a wide margin against Democrat Maxine Sherard, while Assemblywoman Nicole Parra (D-Hanford) took the lead over retired California Highway Patrol officer Danny Gilmore with a majority of the precincts counted.
All 80 Assembly seats and half of the 40-member state Senate seats were up for grabs Tuesday. But only in a handful of races -- none in Los Angeles County -- did the Democratic and Republican parties slug it out with advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts.
The Democratic dominance of the Legislature will not change: Democrats outnumber Republicans 48 to 32 in the Assembly and 25 to 15 in the Senate. But the addition of even a single Republican seat in either house could strengthen that party's hand in budget negotiations, because the state's annual spending plan must be passed by a two-thirds vote.
The tightest and most expensive race was for the Senate District 34 seat. The Democratic Party reported spending $1.6 million to help Correa. The state and county Republican parties backed Daucher with $2.3 million.
To the north, Galgiani faced off against Machado in an Assembly race. The California Republican Party sank $1.1 million into Machado's campaign, while the Democratic Party funneled $2.4 million to Galgiani.
Most legislative districts are so weighted with voters of one party or the other that election results are predictable and incumbents win by large margins. That's in part because like-minded voters congregate; California's coastal cities tend to be Democratic, and inland areas Republican. But legislators also purposely drew districts in 2001 to lock in the advantage Democrats hold in the Legislature. Republicans agreed to the redistricting maps because mapmakers also attempted to protect Republican-held seats.
One former state senator who signed off on the 2001 redistricting, Republican Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga, is now working to put the power to draw legislative districts in the hands of an independent commission -- a reform that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he would pursue next year.