Election 2014: California's primary was of secondary interest to most voters

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Tuesday was primary day in California, with all the top statewide offices on the ballot, plus the entire Assembly and half of the State Senate.

Every seat in the House of Representatives was on the ballot, and in L.A. County there were rare open races for sheriff and two seats on the powerful Board of Supervisors.

And, yet, voters still managed to approach a record low for turnout, with only 18.3 percent of registered voters participating in the mid-term election, according to the final election night tally from the Secretary of State's office. The lowest turnout on record came during the 1916 primary election, when just 18.16 percent of registered voters cast a ballot. The lowest in recent memory was in the June 2008 primary, with 19.75 percent.

This was the first time the so-called "jungle primary" was in effect for statewide offices. Under this new system, the top two finishers will advance to the November runoff, regardless of party affiliation. The policy is in effect for federal offices as well.

Perhaps it was the inevitability of Democratic victories in this deeply blue state that kept many voters at home. But that was no consolation for candidates who were in contested races.

  • As expected, Governor Jerry Brown easily finished atop the field with 54.5 percent of the vote as he seeks a fourth term in office. His opponent in the November primary will be Neel Kashkari, who finished with 19 percent of the vote, overcoming fellow Republican Tim Donnelly by a little more than 4 points.
  • The closest statewide race was for Controller. Republican Ashley Swearengin finished first with 24.4 percent of the vote. The race for second was almost too close to call, with Democratic Assemblyman John A. Pérez coming in with 21.7 percent, just 0.1 percent or about 2,400 votes ahead of Republican David Evans. Evans himself was just 0.1 percent ahead of Democrat Betty Yee.
  • In the race to succeed Lee Baca as L.A. County Sheriff, Long Beach Police Department Chief Jim McDonnell led the slate of seven candidates with 49.15 percent of the vote. His runoff opponent will be Paul Tanaka, the controversial former L.A. County undersheriff who finished with 14.74 percent.
  • Also in L.A. County, the race to succeed termed-out Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky will see a runoff between former state legislator Sheila Kuehl (36.18 percent) and former Santa Monica city councilman and mayor Bobby Shriver (28.8 percent). They will vie for key endorsements from the Los Angeles Times and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, both of which went to West Hollywood city councilman John Duran in the primary. Duran finished third with 16.34 percent of the vote and his own endorsement could prove valuable as well. 
  • The hotly contested race to take over Democrat Henry Waxman's seat in Congress had 18 candidates on the ballot for the 33rd District seat. Several well-known Democrats split their party's vote, allowing Republican Elan Carr to finish on top with 21.5 percent of the vote. His runoff opponent will be Democratic state Senator Ted Lieu, who won 19 percent of the vote and edged former L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel by 2.2 points.
  • The Inland Empire also has a longtime Congressman who's retiring — Republican Gary Miller. Again, a split Democratic vote allowed a Republican — Paul Chabot — to finish first in the primary with 27 percent of the vote. His Democratic opponent in the runoff will be Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, who garnered 17 percent of the vote. The third place finisher, Republican Lesli Gooch, came within 400 votes of making this an all-GOP runoff, as occurred in 2012.  
  • Long Beach voters made history when they elected Robert Garcia as the city's first Latino and first openly gay mayor. Garcia won by 52 percent to 48 percent over real estate executive Damon Dunn, who would have become the city's first African-American mayor. 
  • In the race to fill a vacant seat on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Trustees,  veteran educator George McKenna finished first with 44.28 percent of the vote. In the August runoff he will face Alex Johnson who finished second with 24.67 percent. Johnson is an education policy advisor to county supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. The winner will replace Marguerite LaMotte, the South L.A. board member who passed away late last year.

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This story has been updated.

With contributions by KPCC staff

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