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Democratic incumbents cruise, but GOP sees hope

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- California primary voters strongly supported Democratic incumbents but also gave Republicans hope that their party can win at least one open statewide office in November.

Meanwhile, in Tuesday's nonpartisan race for the state's top education position, teachers' unions showed their political power in helping their chosen candidate, incumbent Tom Torlakson, to a convincing victory.

Gov. Jerry Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Kamala Harris and Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones _ Democrats all _ easily won and each will be favored in the general election five months from now.

Republicans hoping to break Democratic dominance on statewide offices _ they currently hold all eight _ got a boost with strong showings in the secretary of state and controller races.

The secretary of state is California's chief elections officer and oversees the campaign finance reporting system. From a diverse field of eight candidates, voters chose Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla of Los Angeles and Republican Pete Peterson, who runs a Pepperdine University think tank dedicated to public engagement in politics.

With more than 2.6 million votes counted, Peterson and Padilla each had about 30 percent.

Peterson's priorities include greater campaign finance transparency and more public involvement in the state initiative process, which he said has become too politicized. Among his proposals is a “citizen's initiative review” where a “citizen jury” would review and comment on state ballot proposals.

He acknowledged the challenge of taking on a prominent Democrat in a blue state.

“We're going to be outspent all the way straight through to November,” he said.

Padilla's priorities include speeding up the permitting process for businesses to operate in the state and increasing voter turnout, which was dismal Tuesday.

“I think the low turnout today is Exhibit A in terms of why we must do better when it comes to civic engagement,” Padilla said.

Also on the ballot for secretary of state was state Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco, who ended his campaign after being arrested on federal corruption charges earlier this year. He ran third, with 11 percent of the votes.

In the race for controller, the state's chief fiscal officer, four candidates were bunched with between 21 percent and 24 percent of the votes. Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin had a narrow lead over fellow Republican David Evans and two Democratic stalwarts who are termed out of their current offices _ former Assembly Speaker John Perez of Los Angeles and Betty Yee, a member of the state Board of Equalization.

In the race for superintendent of public instruction, Torlakson had 47 percent of the votes while Marshall Tuck, a former charter school operator who wants changes to how teachers are evaluated and when they can be fired, trailed with 28 percent.

Because the race for schools chief is nonpartisan, Torlakson can win the seat outright if the remaining votes push him past 50 percent. In all the other primary races, the two candidates with the most votes advance to November, even if they are from the same party.

“We all know that our schools still have a long way to go, but with California's graduation rate at a record high, this is no time to take a wrong turn,” Torlakson said.

The third candidate was Long Beach educator Lydia Gutierrez, a Republican who also ran four years ago. She attracted 24 percent of votes with a campaign critical of recently enacted national learning benchmarks called Common Core State Standards.

The current controller, John Chiang, is termed out and is running for treasurer. He easily advanced to November, winning 55 percent of the votes and will face Republican Greg Conlon, who had 39 percent.

In the lieutenant governor's race, Newsom, the former San Francisco mayor, carried just under 50 percent of the votes. In November he will face former California Republican Chairman Ron Nehring, who had 24 percent.

Harris had about 52 percent of the votes in her quest for another term as attorney general and waited to see which of four closely bunched Republican challengers would emerge to face her in the fall.

The former San Francisco prosecutor eked out a win in her first race four years ago, partly because the law enforcement community questioned whether she would be tough on crime. In office, Harris has soothed those concerns and hasn't faced the same opposition this time. A highlight of her first term was concessions she won from the nation's top five banks as part of a national mortgage settlement.

Insurance Commissioner Jones took a step toward a second term, winning about 54 percent of the votes and will meet Republican state Sen. Ted Gaines in November. Gaines, who had 41 percent, listed himself as an independent insurance agent rather than state lawmaker, a nod to the public's generally low opinion of the Legislature.


Contact Justin Pritchard at https://twitter.com/lalanewsman

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