Based on exit polls and ballots counted so far, CNN, the Los Angeles Times, and other media outlets are projecting that incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer will retain her seat, while Jerry Brown will return after more than 20 years for a third term as the state's governor.
In both cases, despite the national trend against political insiders, California voters chose veteran politicians over newcomers to public office, and in both cases voters rejected wealthy Republicans who’d run major corporations – gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman and Senate candidate Carly Fiorina led eBay and HP, respectively.
Both races were hard-fought, and both were very close until the last few weeks when polling moved toward the Democrats.
California is a heavily-Democratic state with an important large Latino population. This worked against Ms. Whitman in particular, especially after it was revealed that for many years she had employed (and allegedly mistreated) a Latino housekeeper living in the US illegally. That revelation seemed hypocritical in light of her tough stance on illegal immigration.
Records were set in that race. Billionaire Whitman spent $142 million of her own money – more than any individual had spent from personal funds in US history. Brown, first elected as one of the youngest governors in California history (in 1974 at age 36) now becomes the state’s oldest governor, having served meanwhile as Mayor of Oakland and state Attorney General.
Another thing working against Whitman was the governor she hoped to follow: Arnold Schwarzenegger. He also had no experience as an elected official and has not been able to lead California out of years of budget crisis. Perhaps Brown’s most effective TV ads had Whitman – in her own words – echoing Schwarzenegger’s pronouncements.
Fiorina is the only woman to have headed a Fortune 20 company, emphasizing her business credentials as the kind of experience needed to turn around the nation’s – and therefore California’s – faltering economy. But in a tough and expensive contest, Boxer used that experience against her, pointing to the thousands of jobs lost at HP during Fiorina’s tenure, which ended with her forced resignation.
Once polls closed around the country and some key contest in eastern time zones had been determined, it became clear that the GOP was not going to win enough seats to gain control of the Senate. Boxer’s win confirms that.