LOS ANGELES — In a statewide primary that tested incumbent strength after election reforms, voters largely stuck with established names Tuesday, setting up several contests in which members of the same party will face off this fall. They also shortened the tenure of state lawmakers in Sacramento and put limits on public pensions in two of California's largest cities.
A contentious ballot proposal to add a $1-a-pack tax on cigarettes to fund cancer research remained too close to call after a $65 million spending spree by opponents and supporters. Opposition to the hike held a roughly 64,000-vote lead out of more than 3.8 million cast, but many votes remained to be counted Wednesday.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the 78-year-old incumbent Democrat, easily advanced to the November ballot in her quest to for a fifth term, where she will face Republican autism activist Elizabeth Emken.
Nearly two-thirds of voters approved an initiative to alter the state's 22-year-old term limits law, cutting the possible tenure of state legislators from 14 years to 12 years, but allowing them to serve all that time in one house. In San Diego and San Jose, voters overwhelmingly approved measures to cut retirement benefits for government workers in contests closely watched as states and cities throughout the country struggle with public employee pension obligations.
The primary was the first statewide use of a top-two voting system and legislative and congressional districts that were drawn for the first time by an independent citizens panel.
The changes produced several legislative and congressional contests where candidates from the same party will meet again in November, but early returns showed most of the closely watched independent candidates were not faring well, including Chad Condit, the son of former Rep. Gary Condit, who had hoped to challenge for the Central Valley seat his father once held.
Two long-serving Democrats, Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, advanced to a November showdown in a bitterly contested San Fernando Valley area district that was a marquee matchup among California's congressional races.
Two Democrats also appeared headed for a same-party showdown in the Central Coast's 13th Senate District, where Assemblyman Jerry Hill of San Mateo faced former Assemblywoman Sally Lieber of Redwood.
Democrats hope to pick up as many as six seats in California's 53 congressional districts and have been working to register more voters in traditionally Republican-leaning areas of the Central Valley and the Inland Empire region of Southern California.
In San Diego, four well-known candidates were running for a spot in the fall runoff which will feature the top two finishers.
Republican Carl DeMaio, a city councilman, led with nearly a third of the vote, followed by U.S. Rep. Bob Filner, the lone Democrat in the race. Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, who switched his affiliation from GOP to independent during the race, was in third place.
In a state where voters usually face a long list of ballot measures, only two initiatives qualified before the Legislature passed a law moving all future measures to general elections.
Voters approved Proposition 28, the term limits measure that supporters said would establish consistency and reduce the influence of lobbyists. Opponents said the initiative was misleading because few lawmakers actually serve 14 years under the current system, which allows six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate.