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Candidates backed by leaders ahead in Senate

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POSTED June 6, 2012 2:14 a.m.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — State Senate candidates favored by the Legislature’s leaders were ahead Tuesday in the two primary election contests expected to help determine whether Democrats can win a super majority in the upper chamber.

In the 31st Senate District in Riverside County, many legislative Democrats are backing attorney Richard Roth, a retired Air Force general, over former Assemblyman Steve Clute.

Roth was leading Clute, 29 percent to Clute’s 21 percent. Republican Assemblyman Jeff Miller of Corona is expected to face either Clute or Roth in November.

Republicans have their own key primary contest in the Central Valley’s open 5th Senate District, which includes parts of Sacramento, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.

Many Republican legislators are backing GOP Assemblyman Bill Berryhill of Ceres, who was leading San Joaquin County Supervisor Leroy Ornellas of Tracy, 37 percent to 20 percent. Termed-out Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Livingston, is expected to face one of the two Republicans in November.

Democrats are counting on winning both seats in November as they seek a two-thirds majority, the threshold needed to approve tax increases without Republican support.

Republicans warn that giving Democrats full control would lead to tax increases and the ability to pass legislation on an emergency basis without GOP support. Two-thirds majorities also would allow Democrats to override gubernatorial vetoes or change legislative rules while ignoring the minority party.

Democrats have a good chance to gain the 27 votes they would need in the Senate. They are considered less likely to pick up a super majority in the 80-member Assembly, where they now hold 52 seats.

In a related development, California voters approved a change in legislative term limits. Currently, lawmakers can serve up to three two-year terms in the Assembly and two four-year terms in the Senate, for a total of 14 years. With Proposition 28’s passage, lawmakers will be limited to 12 years but can spend that time in one house or a combination of both.

All but 20 of the Legislature’s 120 seats are up for election this year, and all current lawmakers are running in newly drawn districts under California’s new top-two primary system.

That system, approved by voters in 2010, lets only the top two vote-getters advance to the November general election, even if they are from the same political party.

Assemblyman Jerry Hill of San Mateo appeared headed for a same-party contest in November with fellow Democrat and former Assemblywoman Sally Lieber of Redwood City in the solidly Democratic 13th Senate District. Hill had 52 percent of the vote to Lieber’s 21 percent in the Central Coast district that includes parts of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. But Lieber was on pace to out-poll the remaining two candidates.

In the Democratic-leaning 19th Senate District in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, former Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, had a 26 percentage point advantage over the husband of the current Assembly speaker pro tem. Jason Hodge is a firefighter from Oxnard who recently married Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco. Jackson was likely to face Republican Mike Stoker in November.

Among the most high-profile Assembly candidates is Patricia McKeon, wife of U.S. Rep. Buck McKeon. But she was trailing a former aide to the Republican congressman for the open 38th Assembly District seat in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Former congressional aide Scott Wilk of Valencia had a 9 percentage point lead over McKeon, of Santa Clarita. Wilk was just behind Democrat Edward Headington in the top-two primary.

Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon was on the path to a November run-off election in the open 39th Assembly District seat in the San Fernando Valley as he awaits trial on 18 state charges of perjury, voter fraud and filing a false declaration of candidacy stemming from allegations he lived outside his council district. Alarcon, who previously served in the Senate and Assembly, was trailing former Democratic Assembly aide Raul Bocanegra. But Alarcon had an 11 percentage point lead over his nearest Republican rival, setting up a Democrat-on-Democrat contest in the fall.

Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whittier, is termed out of office but could be succeeded by his son, Ian Charles Calderon, to continue the 30-year Calderon political dynasty into a second generation. He was running neck-and-neck with former Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez, D-Norwalk, in Los Angeles County’s open 57th Assembly District.

Ian Calderon’s uncle, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, was trailing in his bid to return to the Legislature in the neighboring majority Democrat 58th Assembly District. Calderon was running third, behind Republican Patricia Kotze-Ramos and fellow Democrat Cristina Garcia.

Michael Breyer, son of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, appeared headed to a same-party November runoff for an open seat in the majority Democratic 19th Assembly District in San Francisco and San Mateo counties. He had 22 percent of the vote, trailing San Francisco Assessor Phil Ting, the front-runner with 56 percent of votes in the four-candidate contest.

Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, D-Marina Del Rey, was in danger of being edged out of the November race in Los Angeles County’s 50th Assembly District. She was trailing Democrat Richard Bloom and Republican Brad Torgan in early returns.

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