SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — With no divisive initiatives on the ballot Tuesday, the first primary election under California's new top-two system was not drawing much interest from voters despite some fiercely contested seats for Congress, the state Legislature and statewide offices.
Two Republicans are vying for the chance to challenge Gov. Jerry Brown in November, with all statewide offices up for grabs, including intra-party fights in the races for secretary of state and superintendent of public instruction.
Brown and his wife, Anne Gust Brown, voted in a firehouse near their Oakland hills home Tuesday accompanied by their dog. Brown, 76, said he's got a special opportunity to serve in his unprecedented bid for a fourth term as California governor.
"It's been a long journey," he told reporters after casting his ballot. "I have learned a lot, and I hope if the people give me another four years that I can deserve their confidence and trust and lead California in so many different ways."
Voter turnout has been trending downward in California primaries over the last 20 years. With 21 percent of voters now unaffiliated with any political party, turnout Tuesday is expected to be very low — perhaps matching the record low of 28.2 percent in 2008, when California split its statewide primary and presidential election contests, said Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc., a consulting firm that tracks voter data.
Many ballots will be cast by mail at the last minute or dropped off at polling places on Election Day, meaning the outcome in several races could remain up in the air well past election night.
Two Republicans have been locked in a close contest to face the Democratic governor. A conservative state lawmaker, Tim Donnelly, faces Neel Kashkari, a socially moderate investment banker making his first run for public office.
At an elementary school in Fresno, M.J. Borelli, a 62-year-old Democrat, said Brown earned her vote because he has balanced the state's budget and is familiar with state's water struggles.
"Jerry's the quintessential guy," Borelli said. "Besides, he's doing a great job."
Though Tuesday's ballot has no hot-button initiatives to lure voters, there are a number of hard-fought congressional and state legislative races in which candidates hope to unseat incumbents in the fall.
Some are expensive fights in which two members of the same party could advance to the general election in November, such as the nonpartisan contest for superintendent of public instruction, which has drawn $4.2 million in outside spending in a proxy fight between California's teachers unions and their opponents. Incumbent Tom Torlakson faces a fellow Democrat, Marshall Tuck, a former charter school executive.
In the race to become California's next elections chief, University of Southern California lecturer Dan Schnur, an independent, faces Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla, Democrat Derek Cressman and Republican Pete Peterson.
In the controller's race, former Assembly Speaker John Perez is competing for the top two spots with fellow Democrat and Board of Equalization member Betty Yee and Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican.
A few seats also are in play in the Legislature, including competitive Democratic contests for Senate and Assembly in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Southern California.
In far Northern California, voters will determine whether two counties will join a movement to secede from California, while voters in a third county, Siskiyou, will decide whether to pursue changing the county's name to "Republic of Jefferson."
Voters will decide just two statewide propositions, both placed on the ballot by lawmakers. One will require local governments to comply with the state's public records law and pay for doing so, while the other is a $600 million bond for veterans housing.
Associated Press writers Terry Chea in Oakland and Scott Smith in Fresno contributed to this report.
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