LOS ANGELES — Californians brought concerns about an anemic economy with them to the polls Tuesday as they selected their next governor and U.S. senator.
They also were asked to decide on headline-grabbing ballot initiatives seeking to legalize the recreational use of marijuana and suspend the state's greenhouse gas emissions law after being bombarded for months with campaign ads, fliers and telephone calls.
Lori Martinez, 46, of Fresno, said the negative campaigning by candidates was so bad that she simply tuned it out.
"We didn't even answer our phones yesterday or watch TV these past few weeks," Martinez said. "I'm tired of the mud-slinging."
The gubernatorial race has become the most expensive general election campaign for governor in state history, with most spending from Republican billionaire and former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman.
Whitman and former Hewlett-Packard Co. chief executive Carly Fiorina are hoping to capitalize on Californians' sour mood over the slow rate of economic recovery to defeat Democratic Party elder Jerry Brown and oust Sen. Barbara Boxer from the Senate seat she has held for 18 years. The GOP is hoping the same approach will win swing voters in a handful of highly competitive congressional races.
Democrats, meanwhile, are asking voters to stick with them, promising better times ahead.
Whitman, who voted by mail, made a half-dozen campaign appearances Tuesday morning, ending up clutching a bouquet of roses in Pasadena, home of the Rose Parade.
She predicted success for herself and GOP candidates around the nation.
"You're seeing the tidal wave coming across the United States. It's going to come to California and we are going to win this."
In Fresno, Martinez, who is a supervisor for a government-funded health and nutrition program, said she voted for Whitman because Whitman had the experience of running a large company and because "voters are tired of lifelong politicians who act in their own self-interest."
Boxer, who is engaged in one of the closest and hardest fought Senate races in the nation, has portrayed Fiorina as too extreme for California, saying she walks "in that far right lane."
But Kayla Tarbet, a 25-year-oldvoter in Long Beach, said she liked Fiorina's anti-abortion views and outsider's stance.
"Barbara Boxer has been there too long and hasn't done enough for me to want to keep her there," she said.
Fiorina repeated the mantra of change as she voted in Los Altos Hills, a Silicon Valley city that is one of the wealthiest in the U.S.
"I have lived in the real world, started as a secretary, became a CEO and understand that what we need to do now is create jobs," Fiorina said. Barbara Boxer had 28 years to do it. She hasn't done it."
Some of the tightest races may not be decided Tuesday night because about half of all voters are expected to cast vote-by-mail ballots, many of them being turned in on Election Day and not counted until later in the week.
This year's ballot also features several high-profile propositions.
Proponents of a measure to legalize marijuana, including billionaire financier George Soros, say it is a way to raise badly needed tax revenue. Opponents, including law enforcement organizations, argue that the wording of the proposed law would compromise public safety.
Robert Michler, a 59-year-old real estate broker in Los Angeles, said he voted for the measure.
"When I get cancer, I want to be able to have a marijuana cigarette so I can eat," he said.
In Glendale, Thailand native Wanvisa McGinnis, 30, was voting for the first time since becoming a U.S. citizen. She chose Jerry Brown.
"I don't prefer a billionaire to run the state," she said.
Brown, voting at a fire station near his home in the Oakland Hills, said "the signs look favorable" for his election but not so much for the state's economy.
"I think it's going to be very tough for the next year or two," he said. "All signs point to some very hard decisions."
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger might be termed out of office, but he's still invested in the election. The Republican governor cast his ballot in West Los Angeles but declined to immediately disclose whether he backed Brown or Whitman as his successor.
He did repeat his call for voters to reject Proposition 23. The initiative, funded primarily by Texas oil companies, would suspend implementation of the state's Global Warming Solutions Act until state unemployment drops to 5.5 percent and stays there for a year, which rarely occurs.
Voters also are being asked to lower the voting threshold for passing the budget out of the state Legislature from two-thirds to a simple majority, in the hope of ending stalemates in Sacramento.
In the race for California lieutenant governor, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, is going up against Republican incumbent Abel Maldonado for a position that largely is viewed as a stepping stone to a gubernatorial or Senate bid.
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In congressional races, Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez and Republican state Assemblyman Van Tran are locked in a race marked by ethnic friction in Southern California. To the north, Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney is trying to fend off GOP attorney David Harmer in a district that stretches from the eastern suburbs of the San Francisco Bay area to the San Joaquin Valley and is about equally divided between Democrats and Republicans.
Associated Press Writers Jacob Adelman, Linda Deutsch and Sue Manning contributed to this report from Los Angeles; Terence Chea contributed from Oakland.