Democrat Jerry Brown on Tuesday won a nasty race for California governor, returning to the post he held for two terms that began during the Vietnam War, and Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer declared herself the winner in a tough reelection fight.
Early election results have Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, a Republican, holding a slight lead in the race for attorney general against Democrat Kamala Harris, the San Francisco district attorney. Democrats led, some by a hair, in all other races for statewide office.
Exit polls also showed that voters were rejecting Proposition 19, a first-ever initiative to legalize marijuana. Voters rejected Proposition 23 to put off California's landmark global warming law, but appeared to favor Proposition 25, which would allow the Legislature to pass state budgets by a simple majority instead of a two-thirds vote, the results showed.
A strong undercurrent of voter anxiety and disenchantment, fed by sustained high rates of unemployment and foreclosures, energized Republican challenges to once-safe Democrats such as Boxer and Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Garden Grove, and made job creation a central issue in the governor's race between Brown and Republican billionaire Meg Whitman.
Whitman, a former EBay chief, spent at least $141.5 million of her own fortune trying to convince voters she could repair California's listing finances, and for months attacked Brown as a union-controlled, career politician who would return the state to failed policies of the past. She conceded late Tuesday night.
Brown accused the billionaire of running for office to benefit the rich and said — as a former governor, mayor of Oakland and the current state attorney general — he was the candidate with the experience to bring parties together in Sacramento.
Boxer, a three-term senator from Rancho Mirage, faced her toughest reelection challenge yet — also against a wealthy Republican political newcomer, former Hewlett-Packard Co. chief Carly Fiorina, in an attack-filled campaign that threatened to further weaken Democratic control of the U.S. Senate. Fiorina raised $17 million for the campaign, $6.5 million of which came from her own pocket, compared to Boxer's $26 million.
The California exit poll on Proposition 19 and the races for governor and U.S. Senate was conducted by Edison Research for the National Voter Pool, a consortium of the major television news networks and the Associated Press.
Voters were pressed to ponder nine ballot measures. Proposition 19 would, in light of chronic budget woes for the state and local governments, allow for marijuana to be taxed.
The bid to postpone the state's global warming law received an infusion of cash from out-of-state oil companies, which environmental groups and other opponents castigated in ads and mailers as smokestack-loving political bogeymen.
One of the closest statewide races was the north-south contest for state attorney general. Cooley needed to solidify his support in voter-rich Los Angeles County — where he has been elected as prosecutor three times — to defeat Harris.
Cooley hammered Harris for her opposition to the death penalty, using the issue to cast himself as a no-nonsense lawman. Harris had the state's Democratic establishment in her corner, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and argued that she was the candidate best suited to protect the environment and other priorities of modern-day Californians.
Democratic San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom was locked in a very close race with the Republican incumbent, Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, initial results showed. Newsom, known best among many Californians for landing in the national spotlight in 2004 when he issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the city, became the frontrunner for the post of lieutenant governor after dropping his sputtering bid for governor earlier this year.
Maldonado, a former Santa Maria state senator appointed to the job in April, slowly chipped away at the lead, however, even as he was derided by conservatives for breaking with anti-tax Republicans in the Legislature and voting for the 2009 state budget compromise.
The race for insurance commissioner race was too close to call in early returns. Dave Jones, a Democrat from Sacramento, said he would be an advocate in California for the healthcare package championed by President Obama. Mike Villines of Clovis, a former Assembly minority leader who narrowly won a primary against a virtual unknown, said he would crack down on insurance fraud and keep workers' compensation costs low.
Democratic Controller John Chiang, who challenged Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's orders to slash the pay of state employees, was leading early against Republican state Sen. Tony Strickland of Moorpark in a rematch of the 2006 election.