Assembly Republican Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo edged out Democrat John Laird of Santa Cruz in the 15th Senate District, but Blakeslee fell just short of capturing a majority of the vote which means he faces Laird again in an August runoff.
Blakeslee, a former GOP leader of the Assembly, held the lead throughout the evening and overcame Laird’s strength in Santa Cruz and Monterey. In Santa Barbara County, Blakeslee beat Laird, a former Santa Cruz Assemblyman, by better than 2-to-1, and Blakeslee carried Santa Clara County by a three-point edge.
With 100 percent of the precincts reporting about 3 ½ hours after the polls closed, Blakeslee received 64,676 votes, or 49.71 percent, to Laird’s 53,639 votes, or 41.23 percent.
Blakeslee took the lead as soon as the count began and his edge remained steady throughout the evening. But he never reached the crucial threshold of 50 percent of the vote plus one, which would have allowed him to claim victory and avoid the runoff.
Political leaders in the Capitol poured resources and personnel into the campaign, with Democrats hoping to clinch the seat to bring them closer to a two-thirds majority in the upper house and Republicans hoping to gain more leverage to block Democratic budgets.
The 15th Senate District seat formerly was held by Republican Abel Maldonado, who was appointed to the lieutenant governor’s job to replace John Garamendi, who left to take a congressional seat.
The turnout for Tuesday’s special election was light: Of 460,000 registered voters in the sprawling district, only about 130,000 voted, or about 28 percent.
Other candidates in the race were Libertarian Mark Hinkle and independent Jim Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald received about 6.1 percent of the vote, Hinkle about 2.96 percent.
The race drew more than $2 million in combined campaign donations, reflecting the importance of the contest to the Senate, where a Laird victory would have left Democrats just one vote shy of the two-thirds majority needed to pass a state budget without Republican votes.
Democrats have a 6 percent edge in registration over Republicans, but nearly a fifth of the sprawling 15th District’s voters are decline to state. Democrats are strongest in Santa Clara and the coast, Republicans in San Luis Obispo and the interior. In the week before Election Day, campaign volunteers targeted the base of each party, hoping to drive turnout.
Blakeslee, a former GOP leader of the Assembly, drew support heavily from older and affluent voters, while Laird, a liberal Democrat and former Assembly member, sought backing from labor, the young and environmentalists.
Hinkle and Fitzgerald also will appear in the Aug. 17 ballot.