The Republican wave crashing across the nation stopped at the California border on Tuesday, as Jerry Brown won the governorship and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer claimed a victory that would send her back to Washington for a fourth term.
The veteran politicians, Democratic icons for decades, jumped out to early leads over wealthy former corporate chiefs Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, who were making their first forays into public life, trying to ride into office on national sourness about incumbents, the economy and President Obama's administration.
Brown, the state's current attorney general and its governor from 1975 to 1983, claimed victory at a boisterous rally in front of thousands at the Fox Theater in Oakland..
"It looks like I'm going back again," Brown said. "As you know, I've got the know-how and the experience. This time, we have a first lady, which we didn't have last time."
He called for an end to the divisiveness that has torn Sacramento and Washington, D.C, and proclaimed that it was time for California to become a leader in renewable energy and education. He said he chose the theater for his victory party because it, too, underwent a renaissance after 30 years.
"I take as my challenge forging a common purpose, but a common purpose based not just on compromise but based on a vision of what California can be," Brown said.
Whitman, who shattered spending records with her largely self-funded campaign, spoke about a half hour after Brown, and said she was proud of the campaign she had run.
"Tonight has not turned out quite as we had hoped," she told supporters gathered in Universal City. "We've come up a little short but certainly not for lack of hard work, determination and a clear vision for making our state better."
Whitman said she had called Brown to concede, a statement that drew boos from her supporters.
"It is time for Californians to unite behind the common cause of turning around this state that we love," she said.
Boxer told supporters in Hollywood that they helped her win her most difficult re-election battle to date.
"I am thrilled," she said. "I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for this victory after the toughest and roughest campaign of my life. This is my 11th straight election victory and what a sweet one it is."
Boxer alternated between declaring victory and warning the crowd in Hollywood that the results were not yet final.
"Not all the votes have been counted but they are moving in our direction," she said. "And I feel really, really good about it tonight."
Fiorina spoke before Boxer, and while praising her own campaign efforts refused to concede to Boxer.
"The facts are it is too close to call, the facts are it's going to be a long night," she told supporters gathered in Irvine. "We're going to be watching those returns all night. All those people who called the race, it was maybe not a smart thing to do."
Voters cast ballots on a wide variety of state offices and nine propositions, the most prominent being efforts to legalize marijuana for recreational use, stall the state's landmark climate-change law and change how the Legislature approves the state's budget. Californians also weighed in on redistricting, taxes and a car surcharge that would benefit state parks.
But the contests that drew the most attention were the gubernatorial and senate races.
Whitman, a billionaire, shattered records by spending more than $140 million of her own money on her campaign. She unleashed a juggernaut effort akin to that seen in a presidential campaign rather than a state race, complete with lushly produced events, an unending barrage of TV advertisements and an unprecedented attempt to appeal to voters who usually side with Democrats, such as Latinos, women and nonpartisans.
But the neophyte political candidate faced a primary battle that forced her to stake out controversial positions on immigration and start negative advertising in February, which battered her likability among voters. And despite the 54-year-old's improved ease on the campaign trail, she repeatedly stumbled, having to explain her lack of voting for most of her adult life, her residency and her employment of an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper.
Brown, who spent about $35 million and had a shoestring campaign staff, made many Democrats nervous by not campaigning until Labor Day, arguing that he had to conserve his limited resources and that voters would not pay attention until the fall. Organized labor spent tens of millions on his behalf, but allies worried that Whitman would build an insurmountable lead over the summer.
But the 72-year-old, the son of former Gov. Pat Brown, and a candidate who began his political career in 1969, remained even in the polls throughout much of the summer. After he began campaigning in earnest, his lead steadily built.