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High drama in hot local, legislative races

Capitol Weekly took a look at hot legislative races around the state, and the following are some of the contest on our A-list.

Assembly District 5: Richard Pan defeats Andy Pugno. This race between Democrat Pan and Republican  Pugno received national attention because of Pugno’s role as an author of Proposition 8. Although this district has been represented by Republicans since it was redrawn after the 2000 census, Democrats spent millions on behalf of Pan, a physician who ran a surprisingly strong campaign. While national Democrats were bracing for big losses nationally, Assembly Democrats hoped to pad their 51-seat majority in the lower house with a Pan victory – and by holding on to their other seats.
 
Assembly District 15: Joan Buchanan defeats Abram Wilson. This race was a rematch of the 2008 battle between Democrat Buchanan, now the incumbent, and San Ramon Mayor Wilson, a Republican. The GOP  focused on this district as their best chance for a pick-up in the heavily gerrymandered Assembly, but the effort fell short. Buchanan was elected during a strong Democratic year, and state Republicans hoped a national Republican tide would help sweep Wilson into office. It didn’t happen that way.

Senate District 12: Anthony Cannella defeats Anna Caballero. In one of the state’s most closely watched legislative contests, the Republican Cannella handily defeated Caballero, a Democrat with local government experience. Democrats earlier lost perhaps their best opportunity to pick up a seat in the state Senate when Sam Blakeslee defeated John Laird in a special election. The 12th District seat was vcacated by Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced, who ran successfully for Congress. Caballero faced Ceres mayor  Cannella, son of former Democratic Assemblyman Sal Cannella. Although Democrats hold a 17-point registration advantage in the district, this is the Central Valley, home of some of the state’s most conservative Democrats. Cannella ran a strong campaign.
 
Superintendent of Public Instruction: Tom Torlakson defeats Larry Aceves. Torlakson, a former state senator and current Assembly member, won the race – as expected. But in the final weeks, it tightened considerably. Although a non-partisan race, the contest attracted millions in contributions from teachers unions, who backed Torlakson. Aceves, a retired school district superintendent, shocked Sacramento insiders by emerging as the state’s top vote-getter in June. Aceves, a former Democrat, reregistered as a decline-to-state voter and won support from some opponents of the teacher’s unions.
 
Congressional District 3:
Dan Lungren defeats Ami Bera. In a year when Democrats have been on defense, this Sacramento-area district has been a rarity in this election cycle – a change for Democrats to knock off a Republican incumbent. Dan Lungren, who once represented Long Beach in Congress before being elected state attorney general in 1990, has held the seat since 2004. This year, he has faced a strong challenge from Dr. Ami Bera, who surprised Republicans with his fundraising prowess and strong electoral showing. Lungren received less than 50 percent of the vote in his 2008 victory over Democrat William Durston, and Democrats had hoped it was a sign of weakness they could capitalize on this week.
 
Congressional District 11: Jerry McNerney and David Harmer. TIED. McNerny has held this seat since 2006, when he knocked off Republican incumbent Richard Pombo. But this year, it is McNerney who was at the top of the Republican target list and was marked as the state’s most vulnerable Congressional Democrat. McNerney’s challenger is David Harmer, who ran for Congress against John Garamendi in a 2009 special election in a neighboring district. Harmer lost that election, but had the full backing of the National Republican Congressional Committee this year, as Republicans saw an opportunity for a pick-up in California. A recount in CD 11 is all but certain.
 
Congressional District 20: Andy Vidak leads Jim Costa.  Too close to call. Billed as a likely battleground, CD 20 lived up to its reputation. Moderate Democrat Jim Costa, the long-time incumbent, was among those in the crosshairs of the GOP as he fought for a fourth Congressional term. Costa faced a strong challenge from Andy Vidak, a cherry farmer from Hanford who ran strong in some recent polls.

Congressional District 47:  Loretta Sanchez defeats Van Tran. This race had been projected as a hard battle, but in the end, incumbent Democrat Loretta Sanchez easily handled GOP challenger Van Tran. Sanchez has held this seat since 1996, when she defeated arch-conservative Robert Dornan in what was seen as a sign of how Orange County was changing.  This year, Sanchez came under fire for comments she made during a Spanish-language television interview when she said “the Vietnamese” were attempting to take the seat away from her. Democrats held a 15 percent registration advantage in the district.

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