Updated at 1:55 p.m. March 13, 2013
Vastly outspending three rivals in a safe Democratic district, Assemblyman Ben Hueso on Tuesday won the vacant state Senate seat in the 40th District of south San Diego County, including Imperial Beach.
His victory secures a two-thirds supermajority for Democrats in Sacramento.
Online records show that Hueso raised nearly $260,000 until Feb. 23 and spent $241,000.
But he reported tens of thousands of dollars in last-minute donations—including big checks from a beer company and burger chain. (See attached PDFs.)
The biggest donor was the State Association of Electrical Workers, which gave Hueso $7,800, according to a filing Tuesday. Three donors gave $4,100 each—brewer Anheuser-Busch, Motor Vehicle Software Corp. and Prime Healthcare.
AT&T gave Hueso $3,000 and Edison International and McDonald’s each added $2,000, according to late filings.
Coronadans also helped pick Hueso to succeed fellow Democrat Juan Vargas, who was elected to Congress in November. Hueso’s term will end in 2014.
With all 438 precincts counted, the state Secretary of State’s Office said Hueso had 52.3 percent of the vote—more than the 50 percent needed to avoid a May runoff with the No. 2 vote-getter.
The four main candidates in the 40th Senatorial District were Hueso, a former San Diego councilman; fellow Democrat Anna Nevenic, a registered nurse who says she lives in Cathedral City; and two Republicans—real estate agent Hector Gastelum and businesswoman and author Xanthi Gionis of Chula Vista.
Just before midnight, results showed Gastelum—endorsed by the county Republican Party—in second with 22 percent, followed by Gionis with 15 percent and Nevenic with 10 percent.
In San Diego County voting—210 precincts—Hueso boasted an even bigger lead. He had 55.7 percent of the vote, said the county Registrar of Voters Office. Trailing locally were Gatelum (21.9 percent), Gionis (13.5) and Nevenic (8.9). With 32,510 votes cast for those on the ballot, the county turnout was just above 10 percent.
At 11 p.m.—and before the race was sealed—Gastelum said Hueso “outraised him” 40-1 but still led in votes by only 2 1/2-to-1.
In a phone interview, Gastelum said he was “putting seeds” in the district for future name recognition.
“I walked two precincts a day for the past two days,” said Gastelum, who ended the campaign meeting voters in Coronado and watching results posted on the state website from a real estate brokerage he uses on Isabella Avenue.
“I’m extremely appreciative of all my supporters and my consultant,” he said. “I’ve been sleeping 4 hours a day plus siestas the past 30 days.”
Republican rival Gionis—the subject of critical stories regarding her private university in Carlsbad—ended the campaign with a dinner at Cheesecake Factory in Otay Mesa, she said.
She was accompanied by her campaign manager and volunteers, she said late Tuesday night.
Gionis said she focused her late efforts on robocalls and walked precincts in Chula Vista as well as Imperial and Riverside counties, she told Patch.
“To be quite honest, if it wasn’t me [who won], it’s Hueso who would be the best candidate—a seated Assemblyman,” she said. “He ran a clean campaign.”
Gionis also hailed Hueso as a family man.
But Gionis said she was saddened by some aspects of the race, including reports that Nenevic lives in Palm Springs—outside the 40th District.
According to the county Registrar of Voters Office, the 40th Senatorial District has 313,199 voters—of which 143,208 (45.7 percent) are registered Democrats, 81,905 (26.1 percent) are independents and 74,117 (23.7 percent) are registered Republicans.
The victory by Hueso will prompt a special election to fill his Assembly seat.
Because the election was to complete an unexpired term, residents of areas of Vargas’ district in the 2001-10 boundaries cast ballots, including most of south and east San Diego County and Imperial County.
Meanwhile, The Associated Press reported that Hueso’s victory helps Democrats in Sacramento regain their two-thirds majority in the state Senate while retaining their supermajority in the Assembly, “at least temporarily.”
A supermajority means Senate Democrats will “have the 27 votes they need to raise taxes, pass emergency legislation, override gubernatorial vetoes and put constitutional amendments before voters,” the AP said.
—City News Service contributed to this report.