After trailing since Election Day, Democrat Cathleen Galgiani overtook Bill Berryhill in dramatic fashion Wednesday, assuring herself of victory in one of California's hottest Senate races.
The battle of two Assembly colleagues saw Galgiani begin Wednesday behind by about 1,500 votes, but she closed the gap and more leading by 2,111 votes at day's end.
Galgiani's prospects soared with the counting of thousands of provisional ballots in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, key portions of the 5th Senate District, which also includes a tiny slice of Sacramento County.
Thomas Lawson, Galgiani's campaign manager, said the outcome of the race is now clear and "it's not going to reverse itself."
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said the contest was the "most difficult and challenging" of five fiercely contested Senate races.
"I'm very proud of Cathleen Galgiani for winning a very, very tough seat," he said.
Berryhill's campaign consultant, Duane Dichiara, stopped short of conceding defeat but admitted the outlook was grim. "We'd like to count the rest of the votes, but it's a tough row to hoe," he said. "It's awfully tough when there aren't many votes left.
Both Democrats and Republicans targeted the newly drawn Senate district and spent massive sums courting voters, whose registration tilts Democratic by about five percentage points.
Galgiani's win will add to the Democrats' supermajority in the Senate. They needed to capture two seats to assure a supermajority, but Galgiani's win doubles that, giving Democrats 29 of 40 Senate seats when the new session begins Dec. 3.
Galgiani's victory also assures Democrats of a supermajority even when special elections are held to replace Democratic Sens. Juan Vargas of San Diego and Gloria Negrete McLeod of Chino, who won congressional seats Nov. 6 and must resign from the Legislature soon.
Ballot counting is not finished in the Berryhill-Galgiani fight, but too few votes remain to give the Republican hope of joining his brother, Tom, in the Senate. San Joaquin has about 1,600 provisional ballots left to tally, Registrar Austin Erdman said. Stanislaus has about 1,100 provisional ballots remaining and Sacramento about 1,000, Lawson said.
Provisional ballots are cast when questions arise during the election, such as whether a person is a registered voter. The ballots are not tallied unless such questions are resolved.
The Berryhill brothers received more bad news Wednesday when California Watch, a media outlet, reported that the Fair Political Practices Commission is accusing them of laundering $40,000 through two GOP county committees in a scheme to dodge political contribution limits during Bill Berryhill's successful 2008 Assembly race. The Berryhills have denied any wrongdoing, and a June hearing on the complaint is scheduled before an administrative law judge.