California voters may have a grasp of the most intriguing contests Tuesday, including intraparty matchups between Neel Kashkari and Tim Donnelly for governor; John A. Pérez and Betty Yee for controller and Tom Torlakson and Marshall Tuck for state schools superintendent.
But keep an eye on a handful of legislative slugfests that will decide which candidates advance to November and ultimately could alter the Legislature's ideological makeup.
Here's a look at some of the races we're scrutinizing from Sacramento.
Senate District 10
Who we're watching: Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, and ex-Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, D- Castro Valley.
Why we're watching: Things have gotten pretty nasty in the East Bay – just Google the candidates' names. It's "Mugshot Mary" (a two-year-old reference to her pleading no contest to misdemeanor shoplifting charges) versus "Bob the Bully" (Hayashi's campaign says he has a "history of bullying women and people of color.") There's also FrackBob.com, a separate Hayashi website that criticizes the assemblyman for not supporting a ban on the hydraulic fracturing. A Hayashi poll from a couple weeks back shows her leading by 3 percentage points; an older Wieckowski survey had him up 7 points. The question is whether both advance to a fall rematch, assuring months of alliterated nicknames and smear sites.
Senate District 26
Who we're watching: Democrats Ben Allen, Betsy Butler, Sandra Fluke, Amy Howorth, Vito Imbasciani.
Why we're watching: There's a lot of money flying around in the race to replace Sen. Ted Lieu, who is running for Congress. As for who will make the runoff? Your guess is as good as ours.
The district stretches north from Bel Air, down the coast to Manhattan Beach and into Rancho Palos Verdes. Independent groups alone pumped more than $1.5 million into the race through Friday. Butler, a former assemblywoman, drew support from peace officers; Howorth, the mayor of Manhattan Beach, got help from business groups and $200,000 from herself; Imbasciani, a state surgeon, was aided by doctors and a $60,000 self-loan; and Allen, a school board member in Santa Monica, benefited to the tune of $600,000 from independent donor Bill Bloomfield. Allen also gave his campaign about $50,000. Fluke, who rose to fame via a spat with Rush Limbaugh, has put about $120,000 of her own money into her campaign. She's gotten local and national press. But will she get enough votes? Separately, one minor controversy has centered on some Butler supporters yanking their endorsements after she switched to this race from the 62nd Assembly District being vacated by Democrat Steven Bradford (after Lieu left). Butler's delayed exit prevented another candidate from getting the state Democratic Party endorsement in the Assembly race.
Senate District 28
Who we're watching: Former Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia, R-Cathedral City, and Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone, R-Temecula.
Why we're watching: Stone and Garcia have been tearing into each other for some time now, and the attacks have grown deeply personal. Garcia has at least twice asked the state attorney general to probe Stone; and a Stone supporter last week implored the A.G. to look into Garcia's finances. His campaign also has tried to tie Garcia to the trio of scandals unfolding in the state Senate. PAC spending on behalf of the two candidates in the solidly Republican district has surpassed $1 million. Garcia's liked by charter schools, prison guards, real estate agents, insurance companies and GOP mega-donor Charles Munger Jr. The party establishment also is pulling for Garcia. Look for both candidates to advance, and enjoy that long, hot summer in the desert.
Senate District 32
Who we're watching: Former Assemblyman Tony Mendoza, D-Norwalk, ex-Assemblywoman Sally Morales Havice, D-Cerritos, Democrat Irella Perez and Republican Mario Guerra.
Why we're watching: Yes, this is a deep blue district (Democrats nearly double Republicans in registration). But don't get too carried away. The 32nd district overlaps much of the 30th district currently represented by disgraced Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello. And Mendoza, who has had his own brushes with state ethics watchdogs, is under investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission. Are Democrats going to commit? Meantime, Guerra, a Cuban American and councilman in Downey, is not a hard-core right-winger. Should he advance Tuesday, look for Guerra to stick to bread-and-butter issues like education and public safety.
Assembly District 4
Who we're watching: Democrats Bill Dodd, Joe Krovoza and Dan Wolk and Republicans Dustin Call and Charlie Schaupp.
Why we're watching: Dodd, a Napa County supervisor supported by business interests, and Wolk, a Davis councilman backed by labor unions, are getting most of the money and attention. And for good reason: only one of them is likely to advance to the fall. Krovoza is trying to play the role of spoiler. Whichever Democrat breaks through will be the odds-on favorite against either poorly-funded Republican.
Assembly District 16
Who we're watching: Democrats Steve Glazer, Tim Sbranti and Republican Catharine Baker.
Why we're watching: Who isn't? PACs are pouring money into this East Bay suburban race faster than a speeding BART train. This is the most expensive legislative race overall and the second most-expensive race this cycle. Outside groups spent more than $3.9 million as of Saturday.
Having stirred the ire of unions, Glazer's opening salvo was calling for a ban on BART transit worker strikes. A savvy political operative, he's working the top-two primary the way some believe it was meant to be played: reaching out to Democrats, Republicans and independents. Sbranti, Dublin's mayor and a darling of the unions, and Baker, a lawyer and darling of Munger, accuse Glazer of talking out of both sides of his mouth. Here's the big question: Will Glazer's tough labor stance – a position that helped propel Eric Garcetti into the mayor's office in Los Angeles – help more than it hurts?
Assembly District 44
Who we're watching: Republicans Mario De La Piedra and Rob McCoy and Democrat Jacqui Irwin.
Why we're watching: With Republican Ventura County Assemblyman Jeff Gorell challenging Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley, Democrats are in position to steal his seat. It will depend on which GOP candidate gets in. McCoy, a socially conservative pastor, is getting love from the likes of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky. De La Piedra, a 27-year-old businessman, has the support of more mainstream players: farmers, business interests and Munger.
Assembly District 73
Who we're watching: Republicans Bill Brough, Anna Bryson, Jesse Petrilla, Paul Glaab and Democrat Wendy Gabriella.
Why we're watching: It's basically a big family feud among O.C. Republicans that appears to be anyone's game. Brough, a city councilman from Dana Point, says he's all about personal freedom and opposed a plastic bag ban in his city. He used to work for Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, who is leaving the seat to seek another post. Bryson, a school board member with Capistrano Unified, talks about jobs and education while Petrilla, a councilman from Rancho Santa Margarita, wants to take a knife to statewide red tape. Glaab, a former councilman in Laguna Niguel, dropped out just days ahead of the race and endorsed Bryson, but he remains on the ballot. Gabriella is a college professor. Her status as the only Democrat could get her through to November.
PHOTO: Steve Glazier speaks at a panel discussion on the state budget on Wednesday, March 23, 2011.The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua.