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Primary sets up tight fall legislative contests

 

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A low-turnout, low-interest primary election Tuesday has the potential to set up several intriguing legislative contests in the fall, when Democrats will be trying to maintain their two-thirds majorities in the Assembly and Senate.

While the parties will be focused on gaining or holding seats, some of the more intriguing story lines emerging from the primary involve intraparty races. 

In a Sacramento state Senate district, two Democratic members of the Assembly, Roger Dickinson and Richard Pan, are preparing for an expensive general election battle as both seek the Senate District 6 seat held by termed-out President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

Another Sacramento-area same-party runoff was shaping up in Assembly District 9 between Democrats Jim Cooper, an Elk Grove City Council member, and Sacramento City Councilman Darrell Fong.

In Senate District 10 in Alameda and Santa Clara counties, the question was whether voters would forgive former Democratic Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi for shoplifting nearly $2,500 worth of clothing from Neiman Marcus in 2011. Among her four opponents is Democratic Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, who was leading in early returns. Hayashi was trailing GOP candidate Peter Kuo, despite the district's low Republican registration.

The state's new primary system means the top two vote-getters in each race will advance to the November election, no matter if they are from the same political party.

In something of a twist, Democratically aligned interest groups were trying to prevent that from happening in an old-fashioned business vs. labor battle involving two Democrats in Assembly District 16 in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

Labor organized against Steve Glazer, an Orinda city councilman and longtime adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown, because he worked on a California Chamber of Commerce independent expenditure committee in two key Assembly races in 2012.

Republican Catherine Baker was leading that race in early returns, with Glazer trailing union activist and Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti for the second position.

Competing allegations also flew between two Republicans running in a six-candidate field for a new Riverside County seat in Senate District 28. County Supervisor Jeff Stone was slightly outpacing the others, including former lawmaker Bonnie Garcia, who was termed out of the Assembly in 2008.

Garcia was the first Puerto Rican elected to the Legislature and gained national notoriety when former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called her a "very hot" Latina for her temperament, a comment she actually embraced. But she was in danger of being knocked out of the November runoff, as three other Republicans were splitting the GOP vote.

Meanwhile, Democratic Assemblyman Steve Fox was fighting to retain the Assembly District 36 seat he won by just 145 votes in Los Angeles County's Antelope Valley two years ago. Fox was in the No. 2 position behind Republican Tom Lackey in the five-way race.

The primary also set up November general election contests in two cornerstone Senate districts that are likely to determine if Democrats regain their supermajorities, and with them the unilateral power to raise taxes, pass emergency legislation, put measures on the ballot and override gubernatorial vetoes.

Democrats have a supermajority in the Assembly but lost it in the Senate after three Democrats entangled in serious legal problems were suspended.

Former Democratic Assemblyman Jose Solorio and Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen, a Republican, were on track to advance in Senate District 34.

Republicans also are counting on Sen. Andy Vidak to repeat his victory in the Democratic-leaning Senate District 14 in the San Joaquin Valley, which includes Fresno and Bakersfield. He and Democratic challenger Luis Chavez were set to advance.

The Democrats' challenge in the Senate is complicated by two significant shifts as election maps were redrawn by an independent commission after the 2010 census. Republicans are favored to pick up a newly drawn seat in Riverside County, while Democrats will lose a corresponding district currently held by Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco, who was suspended after being charged in a federal corruption and gun-running investigation.

Democrats nominally hold 28 seats in the 40-member Senate, but the suspension of Yee, Sen. Ronald Calderon of Montebello and Sen. Roderick Wright of Los Angeles County dropped them below the 27 votes they need for a working supermajority.

Democrats currently hold 55 seats in the 80-member Assembly compared to Republicans' 25. The majority party needs 54 to maintain a supermajority.

An added wrinkle is that write-in candidates were certified to run in 18 legislative races, including 14 in which they could qualify with a single vote to run in the fall campaign without going through the normal primary process. 

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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