LOS ANGELES - Gov. Jerry Brown easily advanced to the November general election Tuesday night as two Republicans were locked in a fight for second place in a gubernatorial primary that has become a proxy for the direction of the California GOP.
In the first statewide election under California's new top-two primary system, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly and former U.S. Treasury official Neel Kashkari are each seeking GOP votes, as the anticipated low turnout is expected to skew Republican, older and whiter than the overall electorate.
Brown finished first based on early returns Tuesday night, which showed him with 55 percent of the vote. He addressed reporters outside the historic governor's mansion in Sacramento, saying "I take nothing for granted" in November.
"At this point, 40 years from the time I won my first primary for governor of California, I'm ready to tackle problems, not on a partisan basis, but on the long-term basis of building California and making sure we're ready for the future," said Brown, who is 76.
Voters are choosing between competing visions for the GOP: Donnelly is a social conservative who supports expanding gun rights, restricting immigration and has worried some of the Republican establishment with his heated rhetoric; Kashkari, a son of Indian immigrants, emphasizes a pragmatic approach and could appeal to a broader electorate as a social libertarian and fiscal conservative.
The governor's race is the most high-profile on Tuesday's primary ballot. But others are shaping up as opportunities for the GOP to make small gains in an overwhelmingly Democratic state.
Tuesday also offers the first statewide test for the prospects of a nonpartisan candidate in a state where more than one in five voters is registered as not having a party preference.
Independent Dan Schnur, a University of Southern California lecturer, is running in a crowded field for secretary of state, the office that oversees voting and campaign finance. Republican Pete Peterson and two Democrats, Sen. Alex Padilla and government reform advocate Derek Cressman, are the other candidates trying to win one of the top two spots.
Tuesday's primary also will set the stage for what is expected to be several fiercely contested congressional races in the fall.
Republicans are targeting four congressional Democrats this year: Reps. Ami Bera from the Sacramento area; Raul Ruiz from the Coachella Valley; Scott Peters from San Diego; and Julia Brownley of Ventura County. Democrats are focusing on ultimately winning the Inland Empire seat of retiring Republican Rep. Gary Miller and have targeted Republican Rep. David Valadao in the San Joaquin Valley.
Seven-term Democratic Rep. Mike Honda faces a challenge from upstart Ro Khanna, a fellow Democrat, and Republican Vanila Singh in the heart of the Silicon Valley. Honda and Republican Rep. Tom McClintock, who represents Sierra foothill communities in the northern and central parts of the state, could face strong challenges from within their own party in the general election.
Californians also will decide two ballot measures: Proposition 41, which authorizes $600 million for affordable housing for veterans; and Proposition 42, which would enshrine local government compliance with the state's open records and public meetings laws.
Voters in Del Norte and Tehama counties are deciding whether to join four other counties pursuing a 51st state to be named Jefferson, while Lake County voters consider overturning county limitations on marijuana growing operations.