LOS ANGELES (AP) - Republicans took early leads in six battleground districts Tuesday as the GOP fought to increase its numbers in the California Legislature. Democrats led in two other key races.
There were elections in all 80 Assembly districts and half the districts in the 40-member Senate, but most of the seats were safely in Democratic or Republican hands because of the way districts were drawn after the 2000 census.
Democrats held 25 Senate seats and 48 Assembly seats going into the election, and Republican leaders conceded that Democrats still would have majorities in both chambers after voting ended. Still, the GOP predicted it would gain ground.
"I like my position better than the speaker's position," said Assembly Minority Leader George Plescia, R-La Jolla.
The hottest races were eight districts -- one in the Senate and seven in the Assembly.
Democrats were hoping to topple Assembly members Guy Houston, R-San Ramon, Shirley Horton, R-San Diego, and Bonnie Garcia, R-Cathedral City.
But Houston took a 56.3 percent to 43 percent lead over his Democratic opponent, Danville attorney Terrence Coleman, with 44 percent of precincts reporting. Horton led Democrat Maxine Sherard, a retired college professor, 56.6 percent to nearly 41 percent with 23 percent of precincts reporting.
Garcia, in one of the most expensive races of the year, was leading former Assemblyman Steve Clute, 57.5 percent to 42.3 percent with only about 5,300 absentee ballots counted.
Republicans were targeting Assemblywoman Nicole Parra, D-Hanford, and seats currently held by two termed-out Democrats, Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews of Tracy and Sen. Joe Dunn of Garden Grove.
Parra, a perennial Republican target, was trailing retired highway patrolman Danny Gilmore, 53.2 percent to 46.5 percent with 22 percent of precincts counted.
Assemblywoman Lynn Daucher, R-Fullerton, led former Assemblyman Lou Correa, an Orange County supervisor, 58.4 percent to 41.5 percent in the race for Dunn's seat with only absentee votes counted.
With 14 percent of precincts reporting, Democrat Cathleen Galgiani, Matthews' former chief of staff, was holding off Republican Gerald Machado, a Tracy school board member, 55.8 percent to 42.2 percent, in a bid to succeed her former boss.
Republicans also hoped for upsets in two other Assembly districts now held by Democrats, one in the Monterey area and another that stretches from southeastern Los Angeles County into Orange County. One of the incumbents, Simon Salinas, D-Salinas, is termed out, and the other, Rudy Bermudez, D-Norwalk, ran for the Senate and lost in the primary.
Republican Grace Hu, a former mayor of Cerritos, led Democrat Tony Mendoza, an Artesia councilman, 59 percent to 41 percent for Bermudez's seat with absentee votes in. Democrat Anna Caballero, the mayor of Salinas, had a slim 50 percent to 49 percent lead over Republican Ignacio Velzquez in early returns for Salinas' seat.
Sex figured prominently in the race between Garcia and Clute.
Garcia came to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's defense in September when he said Hispanics were hot-blooded. Later, she told a high school class in her Southern California desert district that she thought the governor was "built" and that she "wouldn't kick him out of my bed."
Clute launched an ad campaign calling Garcia's comments inappropriate. A Democratic campaign flier suggested she also was in bed with special interests in Sacramento.
Garcia fired back, accusing Clute of honoring "a perverted, registered sex offender" by introducing a resolution 15 years ago to name a section of Highway 91 after the late Assemblyman Walter Ingalls, D-Riverside.
Ingalls, who served in the Legislature from 1972 to 1982, was fined and placed on three years' probation after pleading guilty in 1987 to exposing himself to two undercover officers in a Riverside park.
Clute's resolution was unanimously approved by the Assembly after Ingalls died of liver failure in 1991 at age 46, but it failed to pass the Senate.