Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley convincingly won the GOP primary for attorney general on Tuesday, giving Republicans a strong chance at capturing the state's top law enforcement job in the November contest.
His San Francisco counterpart, Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris, appeared to overcome an aggressive — and expensive — challenge in the Democratic primary as she seeks to become the first woman, first Asian and first African American to serve as attorney general. Harris claimed victory late Tuesday, though her nearest rival had yet to concede. Former Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo was running well behind in a crowded field.
Cooley, a political moderate who has won three district attorney elections in heavily Democratic Los Angeles County, was leading despite a bruising primary battle in which his two GOP rivals unsuccessfully attempted to portray him as being too liberal for the Republican faithful.
Despite his numerous law enforcement endorsements, Cooley came under fire for his attempt four years ago to seek changes to the "three-strikes" law that would have — with some exceptions — limited the law's sentences of 25 years to life to criminals whose third strikes were violent or serious.
Among a crowded field of Democratic contenders, the race was dominated by an expensive battle between Harris and former Facebook executive Chris Kelly.
Kelly pumped more than $12 million of his personal fortune into the campaign, triggering accusations from Harris' campaign that he was trying to buy the office. Kelly hit back with ads highlighting an unfolding scandal in which Harris' office has been criticized for failing to give defendants evidence about the criminal convictions of police employees.
In other statewide races, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn conceded to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. Newsom will face Abel Maldonado, a Republican who has held the position since his appointment by the governor earlier this year.Real estate entrepreneur Damon Dunn won the GOP primary for secretary of state while state Sen. Tony Strickland (R-Thousand Oaks) led in the Republican contest for controller.
On the same ticket, state Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Laguna Niguel) was unopposed in her bid for treasurer.
The winners of all three primaries will challenge Democratic incumbents in November.
Early results showed state Assemblyman Michael Villines (R-Clovis) ahead in a tight race with veteran attorney Brian D. Fitzgerald for the GOP nomination for insurance commissioner. The winner will battle state Assemblyman Dave Jones (D-Sacramento), who was leading his sole rival.
In the race to become lieutenant governor, Hahn was favored to win the Democratic nomination until San Francisco's Newsom made a late entry.
Newsom had previously called the position largely ceremonial but said he now realized the job offered opportunities to shape economic policy and help oversee the state university systems.
On the Republican side, Maldonado, the incumbent, had to deal with lingering hostility over his decision as state senator last year to break with the GOP and support a key budget vote, including a tax increase.
In other races, three incumbent Democratic state officials — Treasurer Bill Lockyer, Controller John Chiang and Secretary of State Debra Bowen — cruised through Tuesday's primary with no opposition.
In the Republican effort to unseat Bowen, Dunn, a 34-year old African American former football player at Stanford University and, briefly, in the NFL, was an early favorite.
Though he sought to become chief elections officer, Dunn admitted to voting only once before Tuesday.
His only competition was Orly Taitz, an Orange County GOP attorney and a leader of the so-called birther movement, who has gone to court to claim President Obama was not born in America.
Strickland's showing in the Republican primary for state controller sets up a rematch of the multimillion-dollar 2006 contest between him and Chiang. In the last election, unions and business spent millions fighting over the post, which not only is responsible for managing the state's bills, but is a swing vote on powerful yet obscure environmental and tax panels. A sequel is expected to be every bit as expensive.
This fall, in the campaign for state treasurer, Walters will try to unseat Democratic incumbent Lockyer, an elder statesman of California politics in his 37th consecutive year in state office.
California's superintendent of public instruction is the state's only nonpartisan statewide office and the top two vote-getters advance to the November runoff, regardless of political party. The race to become the state's schools chief was a costly battle between three entrenched education lobbies: teachers' unions, the backers of charter schools and local school administrators.
Teachers' unions spent more than $1.5 million boosting Assemblyman Tom Torlakson (D-Antioch). EdVoice, a business-backed group that favors charter schools and more student testing, aired nearly $1.4 million worth of TV ads touting Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles). The Assn. of California School Administrators spent $560,000 promoting its former president, Larry Aceves, a Democrat and retired school superintendent.
Early results showed the three locked in a tight race.
The chance to take on an important role in the healthcare reform debate as insurance commissioner drew three state Assembly members forced out by term limits, including Villines on the Republican side and Democrats Jones and Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate).