By Emily Hoeven
After months of anticipation and buildup, California’s general election came and went — and so far, things don’t look very different than they did before polls closed Tuesday night.
But some of the races that could be among the most consequential for the country’s direction have yet to be decided.
Early returns tabulated by CalMatters’ live results tracker show that all of the state’s incumbent Democrats were on the path to being handily reelected: Gov. Gavin Newsom, Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, Attorney General Rob Bonta, Secretary of State Shirley Weber, Treasurer Fiona Ma, Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.
Lanhee Chen, the state controller candidate that some thought could be the first Republican to win statewide office in California in nearly two decades, was trailing his Democratic opponent Malia Cohen by double digits in early returns — raising questions about the GOP’s future in the state.
While Cohen declared victory Tuesday night, Chen’s campaign said early today, “It is way too early to concede … there are still millions of votes left to count.”
When it comes to ballot measures, three easily sailed to victory: Proposition 1, to enshrine the right to abortion and contraception in the state Constitution; Prop. 28, to require the state spend more money on arts and music education in public schools; and Prop. 31, to uphold a state law banning the sale of certain flavored tobacco products.
On the other hand, voters decisively rejected Props. 26 and 27, which would have legalized sports betting at Native American casinos and online, respectively; and shot down Prop. 29, the third effort in as many elections to increase regulation of kidney dialysis clinics.
Proposition 30, which would levy a new tax on millionaires to fund electric vehicle programs and hire more firefighters, also was defeated.
The initiative — opposed by the head-scratching combination of Newsom and the California Republican Party, and supported by the California Democratic Party and prominent labor and environmental groups — proved extremely contentious up to the last minute.
“We’ve got to defeat Prop. 30, which is bad for our state,” Newsom told reporters Tuesday morning after casting his ballot at the California Museum in Sacramento. On Monday, the initiative’s supporters filed a complaint with California’s campaign finance watchdog, alleging the No on 30 campaign sent last-minute “misleading texts” to millions of voters.
In brief remarks at a Sacramento victory party for Prop. 1 on Tuesday night, Newsom focused less on his gubernatorial win than on the significance of California voters overwhelmingly passing the abortion rights amendment — which he contrasted with policies in “red states” that exhibit “cruelty” and a “zest for demonization.”
Newsom: “We affirmed clearly with conviction that we are a true freedom state. … That is a point of contrast with the uncertainty that we’re currently experiencing as it relates to the national mood. … In states large and small, rights that we’ve come all to enjoy are on the line. In states large and small, we have governors that won their reelection tonight in other states that are banning books, that are banning speech, that are banning abortion. And here we are in California moving in a completely different direction. That’s a deep point of pride. And it’s with that passion that I bring to this second term, a resolve to do more to advance that cause of freedom and fairness.”
But while the outcomes of many races seemed clear Tuesday night, some of the most heated — and expensive — state legislative and U.S. House contests were too close to call, and could remain that way for days or even weeks.
It also remains to be seen whether a Republican “red wave” will crash over California House races and if so, to what extent. Ultimately, which party ends up in control of Congress could conceivably be decided by races in the Golden State.