Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

In addition to the presidential vote and eleven high-profile ballot measures, 154 congressional and state legislative seats are up for grabs today in California.

Changes to the state's political landscape, such as the top-two primary and political maps drawn for the first time by a citizens' commission, and heavy spending by outside groups in state and federal races have produced more competitive contests than in years past.

Those dynamics can make it hard for even the most observant political junkie to know where to turn his or her attention once the polls close at 8 p.m. To help, we've created an Election Day cheat sheet to describe some of the trends we're tracking and questions we'll be asking as we analyze tonight's results.

1.) Same-party slugfests: In 28 races across the state, Californians casting a ballot will choose between two members of the same party. That's a result of the top two primary, which sent the two primary contenders who got the most votes, regardless of party, to the general election. The same-party races have caused some candidates to make some unconventional moves, such as touting endorsements from big-name politicians of a different political stripe. It's also produced some especially bitter battles, including the 30th Congressional District brawl between Democratic Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman.

2.) Incumbents in trouble? Those same-party races have proved costly for parties trying to protect incumbents in seats considered "safe" from a partisan standpoint. Democratic Assemblymembers Betsy Butler and Michael Allen, for example, are facing challenges from fellow Democrats today that forced the party to spend big in hopes of sending them back to Sacramento. New district lines have also put a handful of incumbents in precarious positions, especially those running for Congress. In the Sacramento region alone, GOP Reps. Dan Lungren, and Jeff Denham and Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney are locked in hotly contested races. Super PACs and other groups have spent tens of millions of dollars to influence the outcome of the swing House seats.

3.) A Senate super majority? Legislative Democrats believe a super majority in the upper house is within reach for the first time in four decades. Democrats need to win one of three swing seats -- the 5th Senate District, the 27th Senate District or the 31st Senate District -- to hit the magic 27-seat threshold. It shouldn't surprise readers that millions have been spent on both sides of those contests, given the high stakes back in Sacramento. Controlling two-thirds of the 40-member Senate could give the majority party the ability to approve tax increases or override a veto from the governor without any GOP vote in that chamber (It's mathematically possibly given the races in play that the Assembly Democrats could also clinch a super majority, though many experts think they'll fall at least one vote short this year.). Senate Democrats are expected to lose at least one seat in 2014, but scoring two or more wins today could give Democrats a chance at super majority control in the Senate for the better part of the coming decade.

ELECTION 2012 RESOURCES AT SACBEE.COM:

Vote results: Customize your races
Sacbee.com's Election Central: News, photos, video
Voter Guide: Candidates, issues
California propositions
Sacramento Bee endorsements
Live today: Tell us if you voted. Report what's going on at your polling place, in your neighborhood, at your workplace. Share a photo: email breakingnews@sacbee.com



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