SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Democrats appeared to have hit the sweet spot in a pair of special elections on Tuesday, likely regaining their two-thirds majority in the state Senate while retaining their narrow supermajority in the Assembly at least until mid-May.
With all precincts reporting, Assemblyman Ben Hueso, a Democrat from San Diego, led the 40th Senate District race with 52 percent of the vote.
If the margin holds, it would again give Senate Democrats the 27 votes they need to raise taxes, pass emergency legislation, override gubernatorial vetoes and put constitutional amendments before voters without Republican cooperation.
And with all precincts reporting in the 32nd Senate District race, voters appear to have set up a May 14 runoff.
Democratic Assemblywoman Norma Torres of Pomona led with 44 percent of the vote. She will face Ontario Mayor Paul Leon, a well-funded Republican who trailed with 26 percent of the vote.
The runoff would mean Torres will maintain her Assembly seat, ensuring Democrats a supermajority in that chamber as well at least until mid-May.
Democrats make up nearly half the voters in both districts, with about 28 percent registered Republican and a fifth of voters having no party preference.
"We fought an uphill battle with very little assistance," Leon said, estimating that he raised about $200,000 from his family, friends and local businesses to compete against Torres. "We're going to go after the funding it takes to put on a competent campaign."
Democrats won two-thirds majorities in both houses of the Legislature last fall, but margins in both chambers are narrow and tenuous while a merry-go-round of vacancies and special elections continues.
If Torres wins in May, Assembly Democrats will be temporarily short of the 54 seats they need for a supermajority. Moreover, they will lose Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Sherman Oaks, in July, when he leaves to join the Los Angeles City Council.
But Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, downplayed the significance.
"The speaker has said since Election Day (in November) that it's not going to make that much difference. He'll continue to work with Republicans," Maviglio said.
Tuesday's election was to fill the seats vacated when Democratic Sens. Gloria Negrete McLeod of Chino and Juan Vargas of San Diego resigned to take the congressional seats they won last fall.
A third vacancy was created last month when Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, resigned to take a job with Chevron. The special election in the Central Valley's 16th Senate District will be May 21, with a special runoff election on July 23 if no candidate wins a majority in the primary election.
Senate Democrats also could lose Sen. Curren Price, D-Los Angeles, in July if he wins a May 21 runoff election for a Los Angeles City Council seat.
Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, which analyzes legislative and congressional campaigns, said Democrats in both chambers will regain their two-thirds margins this fall or early next year.
"They'll get their supermajority, I think, by late fall, and so if there's any need to pass any two-thirds bills, they'll still be able to do it eventually," he said.