Republican Sam Blakeslee defeated Democrat John Laird on Tuesday in the battle to capture a Central Coast state Senate seat vacated when Abel Maldonado resigned in May to become lieutenant governor.
With 99 percent of the precincts throughout the five counties partially or fully reporting, Blakeslee led by 48.8 percent to 44.1 percent.
Independent Jim Fitzgerald trailed with 5.2 percent, followed by Libertarian Mark Hinkle with 2.0 percent.
Blakeslee won big in his home of San Luis Obispo County, which has the highest number of voters, and in Santa Barbara County.
Laird won handily in his base of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, and won narrowly in Santa Clara.The Blakeslee win ensures that the 15th District Senate seat stays in the hands of Republicans, and is a victory for the party as well as Blakeslee.
Had Laird prevailed, Democrats in the state Senate would have moved to within one vote of having the two-thirds majority needed to enact legislation they support but Republicans oppose.
The election was the third in the past 74 days for weary voters and election officials in the five counties touched by the 15th District. It was preceded by the June 8 statewide ballot, then a special primary election for this Senate seat June 22.
Blakeslee fell just short of capturing the 50 percent plus one of the votes he would have needed to win outright in the June primary, finishing with 49 percent, to Laird’s 42 percent — numbers similar to those of Tuesday night.
Blakeslee called this election “the most challenging I’ve ever been a part of.” He said his campaign made 550,000 personal phone calls and knocked on 280,000 doors.
Blakeslee has never lost an election. He won two races for the Cuesta College board and three races for state Assembly.
The campaign was hard-fought — some have called it dirty — with a relentless barrage of negative advertising hurled by Laird and Blakeslee partisans against the other candidate.
In addition to hammering Laird, Blakeslee ran on his record, and never wandered far from his central theme — Californians are taxed too much. It apparently resonated.
He said he will go to the Senate to try to close a $19 billion budget deficit, a task with which he is familiar from his six years in the Assembly, some of which he spent as the minority leader.
Blakeslee pledged during the campaign to work with Democrats to solve problems.
He said Senate Majority Leader Darrell Steinberg has put forth new, complex tax proposals that he is eager to delve into. He reiterated his call for a spending cap and a rainy day fund.
Laird ran a multifaceted campaign that stressed his record on protecting education and the environment.He, too, praised his campaign workers and said he had spoken with tens of thousands of voters.
Laird acknowledged that Blakeslee’s huge advantage in San Luis Obispo County was hard to overcome.Blakeslee will be sworn in after election results are certified, possibly within a week or two.
With Blakeslee leaving the Assembly, his 33rd District seat will remain vacant until after November general election results are known. Republican Katcho Achadjian, Democrat Hilda Zacarias and Libertarian Paul Polson are on the ballot, and the winner will be sworn in Dec.1, according to Blakeslee’s campaign.
Because Maldonado was halfway through his term, the Senate seat will open up again in 2012.