Capitol Alert

AM Alert: November contests take shape in California

A contested presidential primary, a generational change in the U.S. Senate, a record number of registered voters and legislative races that churned through millions of dollars: Tuesday’s primary came charged with excitement and import. Here are the results, with 94 percent of precincts reporting in the state.

As always, hundreds of thousands of uncounted, late-arriving absentee ballots remain to be tallied. That means we won’t know the results of some of these races for days. When we say someone has advanced it’s based on a call by the Associated Press.


For weeks, California loomed as a decisive contest for both Democratic contenders. Golden State supporters of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton looked for her to seal the nomination with a convincing victory, while Sen. Bernie Sanders could demonstrate anew his viability despite trailing in the vote count. Alas, an Associated Press tally of superdelegates gave Clinton a national majority on Monday night, and she declared victory Tuesday night before the polls closed in California.

Still, the race here was closely watched – and contested like no California presidential primary had been in decades. Clinton held a commanding lead for hours before the AP called it at 3:19 a.m.. She was eclipsing Sanders by 13 points, 56 percent to 43 percent, with 94 percent of precincts reporting. For his part, Sanders vowed to press on.

U.S. Senates

The retirement of Sen. Barbara Boxer offered a rare opportunity to every ambitious Democrat in California, but it ultimately came down to two: California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Orange, who entered Tuesday atop the polls. Both advanced, though Harris had a firm grasp on first place with 40 percent to Sanchez’s 18 percent as of 92 percent of precincts reporting. The top finishing Republican? Duf Sundheim with 8 percent.

Sacramento area

Several Republicans were vying for two slots to make the Nov. 8 runoff to replace outgoing Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, R-El Dorado Hills, in the 8th Assembly district, prompting fears of a Democrat squeaking past a fractured field. Those worries are looking prescient, as Democrat Brian Caples sat in first with 100 percent reporting, claiming 20 percent, followed by Republicans Kevin Kiley (16.8 percent) and Andy Pugno (13.4 percent).

Two other area races featured intense battles for open, safe Democratic seats, with charter schools and allies weighing in heavily. Outside interests have increasingly played in such primaries, where their ideal outcome can be a centrist Democrat and a Republican – rather than two Democrats – advancing. In such a situation, the overwhelmingly Democratic voter registration numbers strongly favor the Democrat that survives to win.

We have a tight race in the 4th Assembly district, where Winters mayor Cecilia Aguiar-Curry was the chief recipient of an outside-spending surge targeting Democrats. With 100 percent reporting, Republican Charlie Schaupp held a slender 0.9-percent lead over Aguiar-Curry. Democrat Dan Wolk was within striking distance, sitting 2.7 percentage points behind Aguiar-Curry.

An open 3rd Senate district seat pitted Assemblyman Bill Dodd, D-Napa, against former Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada. They finished 1-2 and will clash again in November.

Family feuds

This cycle has seen multiple challenges to Democratic incumbents that have unfolded as proxy wars between environmentalists and oil interests. Here’s how they’re shaping up:

In a race serving as a referendum on last year’s climate legislation fight, environmentalists and other liberal interests backed Democratic attorney Eloise Reyes’ challenge from the left to Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino, who has enjoyed heavy support from the oil industry. With 100 percent reporting, Brown held a double-digit lead in the 47th Assembly District, 45 percent to 34 percent, over Reyes. But the Democratic challenger had opened a wide enough advantage over Republican Aissa Sanchez (21 percent) that Reyes allies declared victory.

Incumbent Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, looks to be heading into a runoff with Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, who terms out of the Assembly at the end of 2016. Campos has gotten oil industry support, countered by environmentalist backing for Beall. With 74 percent reporting in the 13th Senate District, a stout 49 percent had assured Beall a spot in the general. Campos led Republican Chuck Page 26 percent to 21 percent in the fight for the second spot.

And in a rematch of last election’s most surprising Assembly race, upset 2014 victor Assemblywoman Patty Lopez, D-San Fernando, lagged behind former Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, 46 percent to 21 percent. If those results (with 74 percent reporting) hold, they’ll both head to the runoff, but Bocanegra’s strong finish should reassure corporate interests that plowed hundreds of thousands of dollars into helping Bocanegra reclaim his seat.

Big spenders

Outside spending surged to almost $28 million across 50 districts down the home stretch. We already covered some of the races attracting abundant cash above. Results from some of the other expensive efforts to elect one Democrat over another, in which a Republican and a favored Democrat advancing can be ideal for outside funders:

▪ A six-Democrat free-for-all attended an open seat in the 27th Assembly District. Millions of outside dollars swirled around Madison Nguyen and Ash Kalra, with Kalra drawing the support of labor and the opposition of groups representing charter schools and apartment and real estate interests. Nguyen had built a sizable 35 percent plurality while Kalra was edging Republican Van Le, 19 percent to 16 percent, with 100 percent reporting.

▪ School reformers and business interests have backed Tim Grayson while unions have spent heavily for Mae Torlakson in the 14th Assembly district. Both Democrats were in position to advance. In a potential preview of a close November contest, they were separated by tenths of a point, 32.5 to 32.1, for the top spot with 100 percent of precincts reporting.

▪ Some interesting money movement has helped shape the solidly Democratic 24th Assembly District contest, where Democrat Marc Berman and Republican Peter Ohtaki got support from the same interest group. With 100 percent reporting Berman led (28 percent), followed by Democrat Vicki Veenker (22 percent) and then Ohtaki (20 percent).

▪ Over $1 million in outside cash has flowed for or against two of the five Democrats, Ardy Kassakhian and Laura Friedman, running in the 43rd Assembly District. They stood poised for a November rematch as of 87 percent reporting, with Kassakhian sitting at 32 percent and Friedman claiming 26 percent while Republican Mark MacCarley trailed in third with 16 percent.

▪ Watsonville Vice Mayor Karina Cervantez Alejo is hoping to succeed her husband, Assemblyman Luis Alejo, in the 30th Assembly District. Charter advocates backing Democrat Anna Caballero had other ideas, vastly outspending labor groups seeking to lift Alejo. With 87 percent of precincts reporting Caballero had punched her ticket to the general election while Alejo had established an 8.2 point lead over Republican Georgia Acosta, 25 percent to 17 percent.

▪ In the 27th Senate District race to replace outgoing Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, perhaps the Legislature’s foremost environmentalist, labor has backed Pavley staffer Henry Stern while apartment and dental interests have favored fellow Democrat Janice Kamenir-Reznik. Stern and Kamenir-Rezniak split the liberal vote with three other Democrats, and with 89 percent reporting Republican Steve Fazio had reserved a line on the November ballot with 39 percent. In the fight for second place, Stern led Kamenir-Rezniak, 25 percent to 20 percent.

Elsewhere in California

Some notes on a few other races of note:

▪  After stepping aside as leader of Senate Republicans, Sen. Bob Huff, R-San Dimas, hoped his next stop would be the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. With 83 percent reporting, leader Kathryn Barger had 30 percent. Huff and Darrell Park were less than 300 votes apart in the battle to make the runoff.

▪  In yet another challenge to an incumbent Democrat, termed-out Assembly Roger Hernández, D-West Covina, lobbed a challenge at Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Norwalk. With 87 percent reporting, Napolitano was way out in front with 51.6 percent. Republican Gordon Fisher was narrowly beating out Hernández for the second spot, 25 percent to 24 percent.

▪  Also hoping to trade Sacramento for Washington, D.C. is Sen. Isadore Hall, D-Compton. He’s headed to a November runoff versus fellow Democrat Nanette Barragan as the two outlasted five other Democrats and two Republicans. Hall opened a broad lead over Barragan, boasting a 42 to 21 margin with 89 percent reporting, though over a quarter of votes cast were scattered among five other Democrats.

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert