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GOP tries to block Democratic supermajorities in Assembly, Senate with low turnout projected

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SACRAMENTO, California — Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen has been on the campaign trail telling voters how Democratic dominance would be bad for democracy.

Her Democratic competitor, former Assemblyman Jose Solorio, says sending a majority party member back to the Capitol will mean better results for the district's residents in Long Beach and Orange County.

As California Democrats try to maintain their supermajority status in the state Legislature this November, Republicans are targeting the competitive Senate District 34 to prevent what Nguyen, a Republican, calls the "one-party rule."

Although 100 of the 120 state legislative seats are up for grabs, just a handful of races, particularly in Orange County and the Central Valley, will determine whether Democrats will win supermajority control in the Assembly and Senate. That would give them the power to raise taxes, pass emergency legislation, put measures on the ballot and override gubernatorial vetoes without Republican support.

Turnout will play a major role in a midterm election with no overriding narrative or contentious state ballot initiatives to drive voters to the polls in large numbers. Just 25.2 percent of registered voters turned out for the June primary, the lowest on record for a statewide election in California.

"A lot of it depends on voter turnout and a lot of it depends on Jerry Brown's margin of victory over (Republican challenger Neel) Kashkari," said California Target Book publisher Allan Hoffenblum, who analyzes legislative and congressional races.

Democrats are particularly concerned about regaining supermajority status in the 40-member state Senate, in part because it has the power to confirm gubernatorial appointees. During the legislative session, Democrats fell below the 27-seat supermajority after two termed-out senators were indicted on federal bribery and corruption charges.

A third, Sen. Rod Wright, resigned in September after he was sentenced to three months in jail for lying about where he lived when he ran for office. Two termed-out Democratic Assembly members, Steven Bradford and Isadore Hall, have announced their candidacies for Wright's vacant seat.

A low-turnout election has historically favored Republicans, and several GOP candidates were able to outpoll Democrats in districts with a Democratic voting advantage.

"I've also tried to keep our senators working across the aisle so there's no gloating about when other members are stumbling, but there's a working together to get things done for the people," said Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar.

Orange County has become ground zero for the Democrats' effort to retain two-thirds control in the Senate with race a potential undercurrent. Democratic Sen. Lou Correa of Santa Ana is termed out of a district in which 25 percent of registered voters are Latino and 21 percent are Asian, of which 14.5 percent are Vietnamese.

Both Solorio and Nguyen have cast themselves as being able to represent all constituents fairly, but strategists expect labor groups to prop up the Democratic candidate and business to back the Republican through independent campaign spending. The GOP sent a flier linking Solorio to the embattled senators, including Democratic Sen. Ben Hueso of San Diego. Hueso was arrested and charged with driving under the influence after he drove the wrong way on a downtown Sacramento street, hours after attending a dinner for the Latino Legislative Caucus.

"And Jose himself was found to have accepted illegal gifts from a Sacramento lobbyist," the mailer reads. "Had enough?"

As of the end of July, Solorio had accumulated more than $625,000 in campaign contributions while Nguyen had raised about $558,000, according to campaign reports.

Democrats in the 80-member Assembly are on stronger footing. They currently hold 55 seats compared to the Republicans' 25. The majority party needs to maintain 54 for supermajority status.

"We're very optimistic we'll be able to hold on to the supermajority, perhaps add a few seats," said Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for Assembly Democrats. "The demographics have changed in many areas of the state by significant amounts."

Maviglio said Democrats have a chance to pick up a seat in coastal Ventura County that was once a solidly Republican district. Thousand Oaks City Councilwoman Jacqui Irwin is the Democratic candidate in the 44th Assembly District running against Rob McCoy, a senior pastor at Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks. Democrats are trying to cast McCoy as too conservative for a district that is shifting Democratic, in part because of the growth of Latino voters in Oxnard.

Republicans are targeting Democratic incumbents Steve Fox in Los Angeles County's Antelope Valley and Sharon Quirk-Silva in Orange County. The GOP has put up Young Kim, an aide to Congressman Ed Royce, to challenge Quirk-Silva's 65th Assembly District seat.

Independent campaign committees have begun pouring money into that race. Planned Parenthood has spent more than $100,000 to support Quirk-Silva and oppose Kim, while the Orange County Federation of Labor has spent more than $32,000 as of mid-September to support Quirk-Silva.

Fox is facing legal troubles that could tarnish his campaign. A former legislative director filed a discrimination lawsuit, alleging that the freshman lawmaker forced her to perform tasks for his private law practice and created a hostile work environment that included exposing himself when she went to his Sacramento apartment to get him when he was late to the Capitol.

This year's races have political implications for the rest of the decade because expanded term limits will allow incumbents to stay longer in the Assembly or Senate, up to 12 years. New district boundaries and California's relatively new top-two primary election system, which is intended to promote moderate candidates, also are shaping the legislative races.

At least one same-party runoff has gained widespread attention.

Sandra Fluke came in second in a field of eight candidates during the primary for the 26th Senate District race, trailing fellow Democrat Ben Allen, an attorney and a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education.

Fluke gained national attention and an insult from radio commentator Rush Limbaugh in 2012 when, as a Georgetown University law student, she spoke in favor of requiring employer-provided health insurance to cover birth control.


Associated Press writer Juliet Williams contributed to this report.

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