Capitol Alert

AM Alert: Keep an eye on these California races on election night

Melisa Claridad of East Sacramento casts her vote with her 13-month-old daughter, Lily Larsen, at the Clunie Community Center on June 7, 2016.
Melisa Claridad of East Sacramento casts her vote with her 13-month-old daughter, Lily Larsen, at the Clunie Community Center on June 7, 2016. lsterling@sacbee.com

There are mere hours left until you find out whether you’re happy with the leader of the free world for the next four years. While the presidential race will be decided far from California (or not so far, as hundreds of campaign volunteers who’ve made the trek across the border to Nevada in recent weeks can attest), there are still plenty of big decisions that Golden State voters are making today. Here are some of the top races we’re keeping an eye on tonight.

You can follow the California and local returns on sacbee.com after the polls close at 8 p.m. or sign up for the Breaking News and Capitol Alert newsletters to deliver the results straight to your inbox. Download the Sacramento Bee app for iPhone/iPad or Android and enable push notifications to keep tabs on what’s happening throughout the night. And if you’re still trying to figure out how to vote today, check out all of The Bee’s great election coverage, which is free of charge this week.

U.S. Senate

The campaign to succeed retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer may have been underwhelming, but it’s no less historic. This is the first time in California history that two candidates from the same party have faced off for statewide office, and voters are guaranteed to send the state’s first woman of color to the U.S. Senate. With polls showing Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Orange, struggling to ignite the support of crossover Republican and independent voters, Attorney General Kamala Harris hopes to cruise to an easy win. Here’s a cheat sheet to learn about the candidates and the campaign.

Ballot measures

Advocates across the country will be watching closely tonight to see if California voters take two significant steps: legalizing recreational marijuana and abolishing the death penalty. Proposition 64, the weed initiative, has been leading polls by comfortable margins in recent weeks. Its passage, along with similar proposals in Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts and Maine, would be a huge boost for the movement to legalize pot for non-medical use, which is currently allowed in four states. And just four years after they rejected an end to capital punishment, Californians are again faced with the issue: Proposition 62, to repeal the death penalty, and Proposition 66, which aims to speed up executions. Either would bring historic change to a system that has ground to a halt from legal challenges, though the race may be too close to call tonight.

Three more measures could send potent rebukes to powerful, but deeply unpopular, industries that have spent tens of millions to defend their business interests. Proposition 61, which would cap how much the state can pay for pharmaceutical drugs, has been the most expensive fight on the California ballot this election. A tight contest drew Sen. Bernie Sanders here in the final days of the race to campaign for the initiative. Proposition 56, which raises the tobacco tax by $2 per pack to pay for Medi-Cal services, would be the first successful increase to the tax in nearly 20 years. And Proposition 67, a referendum funded by out-of-state bag makers, would finally put into motion a statewide ban on plastic bags that has been on hold for two years.

Gov. Jerry Brown will be intently watching the fate of two initiatives that could shape his political legacy. He is behind Proposition 57, to undo some of the stiff prison parole rules he helped put into place the last time he was governor. Meanwhile, he has ratcheted up his opposition in recent weeks to Proposition 53, which would require a statewide vote for public projects using more than $2 billion in revenue bonds. The change could threaten the Delta water conveyance tunnels he has proposed and the high-speed rail he champions. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, with gubernatorial aspirations for 2018, has two measures of his own: Proposition 64, to legalize recreational marijuana, and Proposition 63, which implements background checks for ammunition purchases and other new gun regulations.

Here’s a quick guide to all 17.

Congress

The race for the local 7th Congressional District, which covers the Sacramento County suburbs, is once again one of the most expensive House contests in the country. The battle between Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, and Republican Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones has been another nasty affair. Either candidate would head to Washington bruised by scandal: Bera by his father’s recent conviction for laundering campaign funds, and Jones by accusations that he made unwanted advances toward a female colleague.

That vitriolic tone has permeated campaigns throughout the state. A trio of Republican incumbents – Darrell Issa of Vista, Jeff Denham of Turlock and Steve Knight of Lancaster – are facing serious threats of losing their seats in regions with growing Latino populations as their Democratic challengers have tied them to controversial remarks by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. If they lose, California’s Republican congressional caucus will shrink to just 11 out of 53 members. And two intraparty Democratic contests – a rematch in San Jose between Rep. Mike Honda and Ro Khanna, and an open seat in Los Angeles sought by Isadore Hall and Nanette Barragán – have been waged with heavy spending and vicious personal attacks.

Legislature

The big question: Can Senate and Assembly Democrats regain the two-thirds supermajorities that they won in 2012 and lost in 2014? The Assembly seems a likely prospect. Democrats need to win back two seats, but they have worked to put as many as seven into play. Former Assembly members Al Muratsuchi of Torrance and Sharon Quirk-Silva of Fullerton have hope to knock out the Republican rivals who upset them in 2014: Assembly members David Hadley of Manhattan Beach and Young Kim of Fullerton, respectively. The San Bernardino County race between Assemblyman Marc Steinorth, R-Rancho Cucamonga, and challenger Abigail Medina appears to be Democrats’ biggest hope for expanding their legislative map into new territory.

Prospects for the Senate are much shakier. Democrats in the upper house must defend three seats vacated by termed-out lawmakers while also picking up at least one of two traditionally Republican districts with voter registration demographics that are slowly trending in their favor. A win by Democrat Josh Newman over Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang, R-Diamond Bar, or by Democrat Johnathon Ervin over Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, in their outer-Los Angeles districts might be the legislative upset of the night. But a particularly blue skew in voter turnout this year could carry either one of them like it did several marginal Democrats in 2012.

Other

Much has been made of the hundreds of local initiatives weighing down voters across the state, but none have national implications like a pair of soda tax proposals in San Francisco and Oakland. Two years ago, Berkeley became the first city in the country to pass a tax on sugary drinks. Victories in its much-bigger neighbors, in campaigns that have drawn more spending than the U.S. Senate contest, would send a huge message as advocates expand their fight against soda companies to other localities.

Mea Culpa

Monday’s AM Alert inadvertently switched Gov. Jerry Brown’s position on Proposition 53. As noted above, he is against it.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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