POLITICS: Campaigns

Candidates for statewide office races nearly set

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Photo - Mike Lee marks his ballot while voting in the California Primary, in Sacramento,Calif., Tuesday, June 3, 2014.  With no divisive ballot initiatives or high-profile races a low voter turnout is expected.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Mike Lee marks his ballot while voting in the California Primary, in Sacramento,Calif., Tuesday, June 3, 2014. With no divisive ballot initiatives or high-profile races a low voter turnout is expected.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Politics,Republican Party,California,Campaigns

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The full slate of statewide candidates for November's elections all but filled out Wednesday, as a Republican mayor won a close primary race for state controller and the Democrat seeking a second term as California's top education official was forced into a fall runoff despite a strong showing.

Democrats hold all eight statewide offices, and the five incumbents making another run won easily in Tuesday's primaries. Meanwhile, Republicans trying to regain relevance in the state could take solace from the results of two races for lesser-known offices.

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin topped a crowded field of candidates for the open controller's seat by grabbing 24 percent of votes, while former Democratic state Assembly leader John Perez fought just to make it to November.

Perez was in a virtual dead heat with fellow Democrat Betty Yee and Republican David Evans, three percentage points behind Swearengin. Despite leading in the too-close-to-call race for second by just 1,600 votes of 3 million counted, Perez's campaign emailed supporters that "we are headed to the runoff."

Swearengin said her priorities would be greater oversight of state spending and using the controller's position on various state boards and commissions to encourage job creation.

Even though all precincts around the state have reported, hundreds of thousands of late-arriving mail-in and provisional ballots were still being counted. A significant portion is from Los Angeles, Perez's home territory.

The top two vote-getters in the primary advance to November, even if they are from the same party.

In the race for superintendent of public instruction, teachers' unions showed their political power in helping incumbent Tom Torlakson to a convincing primary victory over Marshall Tuck, a fellow Democrat who wants to change how teachers are evaluated and fired.

Torlakson hoped to dispatch Tuck with an outright majority, but instead won 47 percent of the votes to Tuck's 29 percent. If he had topped 50 percent, Torlakson could have avoided a November runoff in the only statewide office that is officially nonpartisan.

Instead, the two will campaign for the next five months on their competing visions for the state's beleaguered public schools.

Although Tuck enters the general election campaign a decided underdog, he pointed out that when his total was combined with that of third-place Lydia Guitierrez, a Republican, it surpassed Torlakson.

In the race for secretary of state, the office that oversees California's elections and the state's campaign finance reporting system, voters chose Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla of Los Angeles and Republican Pete Peterson, who runs a think tank at Pepperdine University dedicated to public engagement in politics. Each had about 30 percent of votes.

A GOP victory in the races for secretary of state and controller remains a longshot, said Bill Whalen, a former Republican speechwriter and research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He cited Republicans' recent inability to overcome votes from the Democratic stronghold of Los Angeles County, where he suggested Swearengin and Peterson should "camp out" and plead their cases until November.

The Republican who will challenge Attorney General Kamala Harris was not yet decided. Harris took 53 percent of the votes while four GOP candidates were closely clustered, led by retired prosecutor Ronald Gold at 13 percent.

In other statewide races, Gov. Jerry Brown will be opposed by Republican Neel Kashkari, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom faces former California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring, and Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones takes on Republican state Sen. Ted Gaines.

The other open seat, for treasurer, is a matchup between outgoing controller John Chiang and Republican Greg Conlon. Chiang finished with 55 percent of the vote.

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Associated Press writer Judy Lin in Sacramento contributed to this report.

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