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Vargas celebrates as Salas concedes in 40th S.D.

 Juan Vargas, a former Assemblyman and chair of the Insurance Committee, has won a tight primary election in the 40th Senate District, sending ripples into the Senate’s leadership, which supported Vargas’ opponent Assemblywoman Mary Salas in the campaign.

Salas, D-Chula Vista, called Vargas Wednesday evening to concede defeat, Vargas’ staff said. “She called Juan and was very gracious,” Jim Anderson, Vargas’ campaign manager, told the San Diego Union-Tribune “They had a brief but very nice conversation.”

The assemblywoman from Chula Vista did not return telephone calls Wednesday night, the paper said, and Vargas did not answer his cell phone. But his wife, Adrienne, confirmed that Salas called to congratulate her husband.

Vargas’ victory followed a recount ordered by Salas in the sprawling district, which includes pieces of San Diego and Riverside counties, and all of Imperial County.

Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, had supported Salas, and Senate staff members used vacation hours to work phones and walk precincts for Salas. During the seesaw race, Steinberg celebrated Salas’ apparent victory in an internal memo to members of his caucus last month.

But Vargas, six weeks after election day, ultimately took the victory, in large part because of a $2 million independent expenditure campaign financed insurers, business interests and even some in organized labor. Veteran Democratic political strategist Gale Kaufman ran the Chamber of Commerce-led independent campaign.

While Vargas’ victory is not a direct threat to Steinberg’s leadership, as Capitol Weekly reported earlier, it does underscore an undeniable fact about next year’s Senate: The Democratic caucus is going to be more moderate, and there will be more Democratic senators with their own financial resources who will make the challenge of leading that caucus a more challenging one for Steinberg.

Both candidates during the seesaw, razor-thin vote count earlier had declared victory.

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