DECISION 2014: California Election Highlights

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Highlights for California’s general election on Tuesday.

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TOP OF THE TICKET

Gov. Jerry Brown is favored to win an unprecedented fourth term as California governor over Republican Neel Kashkari. Brown’s first turn in the governor’s office was from 1975-83, before California voters imposed term limits.

Pre-election polls show him with leads over Kashkari of 16 to 21 percentage points. The two have had just one debate, and Brown has spent most of his time and campaign money pushing for two measures on the ballot: Proposition 1, which would spend $7.5 billion on water projects; and Proposition 2, which would modify the state’s rainy day fund.

Lacking money and widespread grassroots support, Kashkari has had a difficult time gaining traction with voters. To connect with working class and middle-income voters, he has had to overcome his resume, which includes stints as a Goldman Sachs investment banker, a U.S. Treasury official and head of the federal bank bailout. Part of that strategy is a focus on the gap between the rich and everyone else and substandard education for poor and minority students, issues that typically are not part of the Republican playbook.

Even if he loses as expected, Kashkari could succeed in introducing a new type of Republican to California voters. He is moderate on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Brown says he will focus on such issues as water, education, criminal justice, budget stability and high-speed rail in his final four years.

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CONGRESSIONAL RACES ROIL LOCAL BALLOTS

The independent citizens redistricting process and new top-two primary system have upended California’s congressional landscape, creating numerous competitive races and several hard-fought same-party contests heading into Tuesday’s general election.

Three congressional races, all involving Democratic incumbents against Republican challengers, stand out: Rep. Ami Bera versus former congressman Doug Ose in a Sacramento suburb; Rep. Scott Peters versus Republican Carl DeMaio in San Diego; and Rep. Julia Brownley versus state Assemblyman Jeff Gorell in Ventura County.

The Sacramento and San Diego races are among the closest and most expensive in the country, while the Ventura County seat has attracted millions of dollars in outside spending on Gorell’s behalf in recent weeks.

A Democrat versus Democrat race in Silicon Valley is another of California’s most intriguing House races, in which veteran Rep. Mike Honda finds himself in a tight battle against patent lawyer Ro Khanna. Republican Rep. Tom McClintock is expected to dispatch fellow Republican Art Moore in a district that stretches from the Sacramento suburbs to Yosemite National Park.

Overall, Republicans are expected to retain control of the U.S. House of Representatives, but flipping seats held by Democrats in California would be seen as a symbolic victory.

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THE ELECTION WITHIN THE ELECTION

Republicans have slipped to just 28 percent of the California electorate and have been on a losing streak for statewide constitutional offices and state legislative seats. While they have only dim hopes for winning a statewide seat on Tuesday, the state GOP is working hard to thwart Democratic supermajorities in the Assembly and Senate.

A two-thirds supermajority would allow Democratic lawmakers to unilaterally raise taxes and override gubernatorial vetoes if they chose. Republicans are focusing on a handful of legislative races, primarily in Orange County.

The party has competitive candidates for controller and secretary of state, but the Democratic voter registration edge is difficult to overcome.

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DROUGHT AND HEALTH CARE ARE TOP INITIATIVES

Somewhat atypically, California has just six statewide propositions on the general election ballot, none of which appears to be whipping up the electorate. Two of those were placed on the ballot by the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown— Proposition 1, which would spend $7.5 billion on water projects, and Proposition 2, which would modify the state’s rainy day fund.

Proposition 46 has drawn the most campaign cash so far, with doctors and insurance groups opposing the attempt to lift California’s cap on medical malpractice damage awards from $250,000 to $1.1 million. Proposition 45, which would give the elected state insurance commissioner the power to veto health insurance rate increases, is close behind in spending.

Another initiative would lower penalties to misdemeanors for certain offenses, while the final one is a referendum about an off-reservation tribal casino in the Central Valley.

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LOCAL VOTES ON FRACKING, SUGARY DRINKS

Some of the most contentious matters are on local ballots. Voters in San Francisco and Berkeley will decide whether to add taxes to sugary drinks in a battle against obesity and health consequences such as diabetes. Voters in three counties, including Santa Barbara, will decide whether to ban the oil and gas-extraction technique known as fracking. Oakland will select a new mayor or stick with incumbent Jean Quan, who has been embattled over her handling of the Occupy protests and the city’s police force. And Sacramento voters will decide whether to give the city’s mayor more power, bringing it in line with other major California cities.

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VOTERS TUNED OUT AND TURNED OFF

Turnout in June was just 25 percent, the lowest on record for a California primary. Analysts are predicting tepid turnout again on Tuesday, blaming it on a coarse political climate and too few big-ticket races on the ballot. Most project turnout at 50 percent or less. Polling places could be desolate because of another factor — the rise in the proportion of voters casting vote-by-mail ballots. Nearly 70 percent of voters did so in June, and analysts expect that number to be well over 50 percent on Tuesday.

If many of those absentee ballots are turned in at precincts on Election Day, it could mean outcomes in close races may not be known for days.

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

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