Democrat Norma Torres favored in special legislative election

In this Feb. 16, 2012, file photo, Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Pomona,  poses in her Capitol office in Sacramento, Calif.  Torres  received 44 percent of the vote in a special election for the 32nd Senate District seat.  She faces Ontario Mayor Paul Leon, a Republican , who received 26 percent, in a May 14 runoff election.
In this Feb. 16, 2012, file photo, Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Pomona, poses in her Capitol office in Sacramento, Calif. Torres received 44 percent of the vote in a special election for the 32nd Senate District seat. She faces Ontario Mayor Paul Leon, a Republican , who received 26 percent, in a May 14 runoff election. Rich Pedroncelli/AP

 Democratic Assemblywoman Norma Torres is the favorite to win a vacant Southern California state Senate seat during a special runoff election Tuesday, continuing a game of legislative leapfrog that promises to continue most of this year.

Torres, of Pomona, faces Ontario Mayor Paul Leon, a Republican, in the race for the 32nd Senate District, which encompasses portions of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. Nearly half the district's voters are Democrats, outnumbering registered Republicans nearly 2-to-1. She had 44 percent of the vote to Leon's 26 percent in a special primary election two months ago.

Torres also has raised substantially more money and Republicans are concentrating on a more winnable race next week in a Central Valley state Senate district, said Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, which analyzes legislative and congressional campaigns.

A victory by Torres would temporarily leave Assembly Democrats one vote short of the two-thirds majority they reached in November's general election.

But Democrats expect Chula Vista community organizer Lorena Gonzalez to win a May 21 special election in the 80th Assembly District in the San Diego area. She faces a fellow Democrat, businessman Steve Castaneda, also of Chula Vista.

That race will restore Democrats' supermajority in the Assembly just as lawmakers begin considering the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Democrats already hold a two-thirds majority in the Senate.

Also next week, voters in the Central Valley's 16th Senate District will choose between five candidates to replace Democrat Michael Rubio of Bakersfield, who resigned in February to take a job with Chevron.

The back-to-back special elections are just the latest round as incumbent lawmakers leave for other offices. The vacancies periodically may leave Democrats in either the Assembly or Senate without the supermajorities that would let them raise taxes, pass emergency legislation, override gubernatorial vetoes and put constitutional amendments before voters without Republican cooperation.

Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, said the speaker remains opposed to raising taxes this year. And Democrats can pass a budget without a supermajority since voters approved Proposition 25 in 2010, which allowed passage by a simple majority.

"Even with all the shuffling of the deck, two-thirds isn't what it used to be because of the majority budget," Maviglio said. "In the old days, everyone would be biting their fingernails because we'd need two-thirds to pass a budget, and now we don't."

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