LOS ANGELES – Democrats completed a clean sweep of California’s statewide offices Wednesday as Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley conceded the race for attorney general, ending weeks of uncertainty in one of the closest statewide elections in California history.
With the number of uncounted ballots dwindling and his rival’s lead at more than 50,000 votes, Cooley telephoned San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris early Wednesday to congratulate the Democratic victor.
Cooley’s loss delivered yet another blow to state Republicans reeling from their failure to capture the governor’s mansion or a U.S. Senate seat.
Many viewed the Los Angeles prosecutor, who enjoys a reputation as an even-handed moderate, as the GOP’s best hope of winning a major office in the Nov. 2 election. Harris, a Bay Area liberal who opposes the death penalty, was considered particularly vulnerable.
But while Republicans rode a wave of discontent in the rest of the nation, political experts said Cooley’s defeat shows the enormous difficulties the GOP faces in rebuilding support in California.
“The conventional wisdom was Steve Cooley was the one sure thing on the ballot,” said Adam Mendelsohn, a Republican strategist and former aide to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “It’s an absolute wake-up call to Republicans to acknowledge how Californians vote.”
The victory marked a rare time in California when one party captured all statewide elected offices. The Democrats did it last in 2002.
Despite Cooley’s concession, Harris held off on claiming victory.
The daughter of a Jamaican father and a mother from India, Harris made history by becoming the first woman and first non-white candidate to win election as the state’s top law enforcement officer.
In her new post, she will decide where the state stands on some of the most important and controversial political issues, including same-sex marriage and President Barack Obama’s health care reforms. Harris supports both.
The attorney general’s office has historically offered a springboard to higher office. Among those who have made the jump from attorney general to governor: Earl Warren, Pat Brown, George Deukmejian and, most recently, Jerry Brown.
The victory for Harris, who is considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, puts her in a good position in the future, several political observers said.
“For want of a better term, she has a star quality,” said John J. Pitney Jr., a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and a former national GOP official.