Jerry Brown easily secured a spot on the November ballot Tuesday to seek a record fourth term as governor. Two Republicans who hope to challenge him are locked in a tight race that could have implications for the direction of the party.
Moderate Republican Neel Kashkari, an investment banker and former Treasury official who voted for Barack Obama in 2008, held a slight lead over conservative Republican Tim Donnelly, an Assembly Member from San Bernardino County with a penchant for controversial statements.
But in a primary election with sparse turnout and lots of last-minute mail ballots, the outcome of the governor's race and many Valley races could remain unsettled well after Tuesday. This is the second time voters have decided races in a top-two primary — and the first time statewide offices have been decided in that fashion.
Republican party activists have feared a Donnelly win, saying having him on the November ballot could undermine the party's efforts to attract minority voters and imperil chances for other Republicans, including several Valley candidates for state and congressional seats. Donnelly has been an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration.
In another statewide race with local interest, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin was leading five other candidates for state controller in early returns, netting about 23% of the votes — but throwing a blanket over the top four. In Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties, Swearengin had received slightly better than half of the mail ballots in early returns.
In the race for secretary of state, Democrat Alex Padilla and Republican Pete Peterson were leading a crowded field of candidates that included state Sen. Leland Yee, who dropped out of the race after he was indicted on bribery and corruption charges. Yee's decision came too late to remove his name from the ballot. Nevertheless, in early returns Yee was in third place out of eight candidates.
Across the central San Joaquin Valley, voters were deciding a slew of local races, including top law enforcement offices in Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties.
In the bitter Fresno County district attorney's race, challenger Lisa Sondergaard Smittcamp was leading incumbent DA Elizabeth Egan by more than 13 percentage points.
Kings County voters appeared to be ready to unseat incumbent District Attorney Greg Strickland, giving a 2-to-1 lead to challenger Keith Fagundes, a former Kings County deputy district attorney.
Tulare County voters were giving Tim Ward a solid lead over challenger Ralph Kaelble for district attorney. And Mike Boudreaux appeared to have a 3-to-1 lead over challenger Dave Whaley for sheriff-coroner.
But in Madera County, runoffs appeared in the offing for the district attorney and sheriff-coroner seats. Incumbent District Attorney Michael Keitz was trailing challenger David Linn in early returns. Meanwhile, Jay Varney and Michael Salvador were leading a field of six candidates seeking to replace Sheriff John Anderson, who is retiring. If they remain the top two candidates, they will face a runoff in November.
Democrat Amanda Renteria, who has received money and backing from the national party, appeared to have a solid lead to reach the November ballot over fellow Democrat John Hernandez in the 21st Congressional District. But both were trailing incumbent Rep. David Valadao, the Hanford Republican who is trying for a second term. Valadao was leading with about 64% of the vote to Renteria's 25%.
In the 26th state Assembly District, a pair of Republicans, Rudy Mendoza and Devon Mathis, were leading five other candidates for the right to appear on the November ballot. They are hoping to replace Assembly GOP Leader Connie Conway of Tulare, who is termed out.
Fresno City Council
In the race for Fresno City Council District 1 seat, Cary Catalano and Esmeralda Soria appeared headed for a runoff, leading five other candidates by wide margins. They are seeking to replace Blong Xiong, who is termed out.
Incumbents Oliver Baines in the 3rd District and Clint Olivier in the 7th District appeared well ahead of their challengers and likely to win outright. Sal Quintero was unchallenged for a new term representing the 5th District on the council.
Other Fresno County races
Two contests to replace retiring county supervisors appeared destined for runoffs in November, although in one case it could be close.
Farmer Buddy Mendes, who is seeking to replace District 4 Supervisor Judy Case McNairy, was running just short of the 50% plus one vote needed to avoid a runoff. Four other candidates were in the race.
In the District 1 race to replace Phil Larson, Kerman-area farmer Brian Pacheco appeared headed for a runoff against Fresno City Council Member Blong Xiong.
Incumbent County Assessor-Recorder Paul Dictos, 70, took an early lead over challenger Mike Goossen, a newcomer who'd won the backing of Supervisors Debbie Poochigian and Phil Larson and county Auditor-Controller/Treasurer-Tax Collector Vicki Crow. Dictos, who has served in the role for four years, clinched nearly 70% of mail ballot votes in early returns.
In the only Fresno County Superior Court judgeship race on the ballot, early returns showed Deputy District Attorney Lisa Gamoian holding a 10 percentage-point lead over former Deputy District Attorney Rachel Hill. As expected with five candidates seeking the seat, the judgeship appears headed for a runoff in November.
In the county schools superintendent race, incumbent Jim Yovino looked to have a big edge on his only opponent, Juan Sandoval.
A runoff appeared likely in Madera County Board of Supervisors District 1. Mona Diaz was leading with about 24% of the vote, but Brett Frazier and Gary Johns were within a percentage point of each other as votes were being tabulated. Two other candidates, Ray Krause Jr. and Rochelle Minneti Noblett, weren't far behind.
Madera County Supervisor Tom Wheeler was leading challenger Paul Cliby by a wide margin.
In the race for Kings County Board of Supervisors District 3, one-term incumbent Doug Verboon of Hanford was comfortably ahead of challenger Holly Blair of Lemoore.
In District 4, farmer Craig Pedersen was ahead in a field of five. The seat has no incumbent because Supervisor Tony Barba did not seek re-election.
Coming in second was Justin Bond, a former Army sergeant, followed by Sue Sorensen, Dolores Gallegos and Alan Danielson.
Both supevisorial races were dominated by the controversy about the California high-speed rail planned through Kings County and water supply worries.
In the race for Kings County Assessor/Clerk-Recorder and Registrar of Voters, Kristine Lee, chief auditor appraiser in the Tulare County Assessor's Office, was ahead in a field of four, followed by A. Renee Faber, Dan Chin and Ed Lopez.
Kings County Superintendent of Schools Tim Bowers was easily holding back challenger Tony Araujo, an educator.
Fifth District Supervisor Mike Ennis was leading three other candidates for another term on the county board, and early returns indicated he might just win outright with 51% of the vote.
Porterville City Council Member Pete McCracken and newcomer Milt Stowe were leading by wide margins for two seats on the council.
At many Valley polling places, turnout was sparse. Some polling places with thousands of voters on the rolls had just a few hundred marking ballots by mid- to late afternoon.
Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth said she is hoping turnout would hit 30%. As of Monday afternoon, county workers had collected mail ballots from nearly 13% of county voters. By Tuesday night, the tally of turnout had crept up to 15% and was expected to rise further as late-arriving mail ballots are counted.
Statewide, things weren't expected to be much better. The historic low turnout is 28.2%, and some election-watchers feared Tuesday's turnout might not reach even that.
At the voting booth inside Northside Christian Church on Nees Avenue in northeast Fresno, there had been no lines by 1:30 p.m. Only 20 people had voted by then, leaving Precinct Inspector Jeanne Weaver with time to read a mystery novel. She was given 260 ballots, she said.
Ben Genco, Weaver's 20th voter, said the district attorney and governor races brought him to the polls. "I'm a conservative and I did want to vote for the governor. I wouldn't mind getting Jerry Brown out of office, even though I know it won't happen."
Other voters said they were determined to make their voice heard.
Ida Jones always votes, and this election was no exception. "You can't complain about a democracy and how it works or doesn't work if you don't vote," she said after casting her ballot at San Joaquin Gardens on Fresno Street near Shaw Avenue.
At the polling station in Mount Olive Baptist Church at Thorne and Clinton avenues in central Fresno, Rob Del Pozo, 38, brought daughter Stella, 3, to watch.
"She wanted an 'I voted' sticker," Del Pozo said. "I like to get out and vote on every Election Day."
In Visalia, several voters said they were drawn to the polls by specific races — the Tulare County district attorney's election, the governor's race or the contest for state superintendent of schools.
Lynette Haines, 55, also said she came to vote in the district attorney election, but declined to state her choice.
"I want to make sure all of our rights and needs are being protected," she added.
Fresno County tried drive-through voting at some locations, and it proved a hit with some voters.
"It's the Starbucks for your voting," said Niki Campos, a vote-by-mail drive-through clerk on the curb outside the Clovis Veterans Memorial District office on Hughes Street in Clovis.
Voter Lynne Cavanaugh said it was her first time turning a vote in by car. "I loved it," she said. Next election she will do the same, she said, or "mail it on time."
Go to www.fresnobee.com to read the latest race results.
Check out Thursday's Fresno Bee to see a complete list of race results.
This story was compiled by Douglas E. Beeman with reports from staff writers Barbara Anderson, Rory Appleton, Marc Benjamin, Lewis Griswold, Mark Grossi, Hannah Furfaro and Brianna Vaccari. See the story at www.fresnobee.com/ elections for more scenes from Tuesday's voting.