California chooses Biden; state GOP hoping for US House wins

November 4, 2020 GMT
Fernando Dejo, right, and Sabina Vasquez retrieve paper ballots from ballot marking devices, or vote recorders, as a polling place closes in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Fernando Dejo, right, and Sabina Vasquez retrieve paper ballots from ballot marking devices, or vote recorders, as a polling place closes in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Fernando Dejo, right, and Sabina Vasquez retrieve paper ballots from ballot marking devices, or vote recorders, as a polling place closes in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
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Fernando Dejo, right, and Sabina Vasquez retrieve paper ballots from ballot marking devices, or vote recorders, as a polling place closes in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
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Fernando Dejo, right, and Sabina Vasquez retrieve paper ballots from ballot marking devices, or vote recorders, as a polling place closes in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California delivered a strong rebuke to Donald Trump’s presidency as Democrat Joe Biden ran up the score in the liberal state with a victory of 4 million votes in an election upended by the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden’s supersized victory didn’t derail the state GOP’s hopes of clawing back some of the seven U.S. House seats the party lost two years ago. Republican candidates had narrow leads over two Democratic incumbents in Orange County, while another GOP incumbent withstood a challenge in the Central Valley.

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Meanwhile, voters were torn on a series of expensive ballot measures that tested California’s commitment to progressive policies.

Labor unions, long a source of Democratic power in the state, flexed their collective muscle last year when the state Legislature passed — and Gov. Gavin Newsom signed — a law requiring app-based ride-hailing and delivery companies like Uber and Lyft to treat their drivers as employees instead of independent contractors.

But Tuesday, with the help of a $200 million campaign funded by the industry, voters chose to exempt those companies from the new law. The proposition gave drivers some new protections and the continued freedom to set their own work schedules.

Months after George Floyd’s death by Minneapolis police ignited a wave of racial justice activism nationwide, voters rejected a proposal that would have brought back affirmative action programs in college admissions and government contracting.

“You want the best people to rise up,” said 49-year-old Scott Bennett, a retired Army officer who voted no on Proposition 16. “I think the meritocracy idea is the best.”

Voters also resoundingly rejected an attempt to undo some criminal sentencing changes passed in recent years and agreed to allow some people on parole for felony convictions to vote. They also denied an effort to do away with cash bail.

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There was little drama at the top of the ticket, as Biden and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, his California-born running mate, cruised to victory with 65% of the vote after nearly 12 million ballots were counted. They gained the state’s 55 electoral votes, more than one-fifth of the 270 needed to secure the presidency.

Harry Rochester, 40, a Black home care nurse from San Francisco who voted for Biden, said that if Trump wins, “America will be a lost cause. We will lose hope.”

California Republicans focused on reclaiming U.S. House seats after a string of losses two years ago left them with just seven of 53 districts statewide.

Their hopes hinged on Orange County, a one-time Republican stronghold that turned completely blue in 2018. Democratic U.S. Reps. Gil Cisneros and Harley Rouda, who both won their seats two years ago, were in tight battles.

Michelle Steel, the GOP chairwoman of the county Board of Supervisors, led Rouda by about 2,000 votes out of nearly 340,000 counted, while Cisneros trailed former Assemblywoman Young Kim by about 1,200 votes.

In the Central Valley, U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes — a staunch Trump ally — defeated Democrat Phil Arballo with 53% of the vote.

In San Diego, former longtime U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa had a narrow lead over Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar for a seat vacated when GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter pleaded guilty to a corruption charge and resigned. In the Central Valley, another former congressman, David Valadao, had a slim lead over Democrat TJ Cox, who defeated Valadao by less than 1,000 votes in 2018.

The election came under the pall of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 17,600 people in California so far, including Alameda County sheriff’s Deputy Oscar Rocha in July. His widow, Maureen Ennor-Rocha, cast her ballot for Trump on Tuesday.

“This is my first voting day without him, so I think that might be part of my anxiety,” she said. “We fly the blue line flag, we believe in protecting our police.”

It’s been decades since Republicans were the dominant party in California. Starting in 1952, the GOP won nine of 10 presidential elections and the state helped send Californians Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan to the White House.

When Bill Clinton defeated President George H.W. Bush in 1992, it started a streak that has now reached eight straight victories for the Democrats, including Biden.

But voters have been fickle when faced with policies championed by the state’s Democratic leaders. Two years ago, lawmakers passed a law that would end the state’s system of cash bail, arguing the system favored those who could afford to pay. But Californians voted to overturn that law, keeping the current system in place.

Left unresolved was an initiative to raise property taxes on some commercial properties by up to $12.5 billion per year to pay for schools and local government services. No votes for Proposition 15, which enjoyed the backing of most of the state’s Democratic leaders, were leading with more than 51% of the vote.

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Associated Press writers Michael R. Blood in Los Angeles, and Olga R. Rodriguez and Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco contributed.

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Find AP’s full election coverage at APNews.com/Election2020.