In California, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer won a third term by a whopping 58 percent to 38 percent margin over Republican challenger and former Secretary of State Bill Jones, despite the support Jones received from Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Proposition 62, the “top two” ballot initiative, was defeated. Prop. 62 would have required all candidates for Congress and state office to appear on the primary ballot, and would have permitted only the two top vote-getters to appear on the ballot in the general election, regardless of party affiliation. Its defeat was greeted by progressive electoral activists.

Prop. 60, a ballot measure that affirmed the current primary election system, passed.

Prop. 71, a bond measure to support stem cell research, also won decisively, racking up a 59 percent majority.

However, Prop. 72, which would have upheld the Health Insurance Act of 2003, lost narrowly, by 49.13 to 51.87 percent, following a barrage of spending by Wal-Mart, McDonalds and other large retailers. The measure would have required employers of 50 or more workers to provide health coverage, and would have capped workers’ co-payments at 20 percent of premiums.

Opposition forces spent some $16 million, with Wal-Mart alone pouring in $500,000 and McDonald’s franchises adding another $471,000. Supporters of Prop. 72 — considered to be a first step toward more far-reaching health care reform — were upbeat, nonetheless, saying the campaign had laid the basis to continue the struggle.

“The opposition used every lie, every dollar, every distortion, but we came very close — the closest we’ve ever been to health care reform in the state or nationally,” Anthony Wright, executive director of the 200-organization Health Access coalition and spokesperson for the Yes on 72 campaign, told the World in a telephone interview.

“We have a strong base to continue, and in the months to come we will figure out the next steps.”

Another loss was the defeat of Prop. 66, to modify the draconian Three Strikes ballot initiative passed in 1994. Prop. 66 would have provided that only violent or serious felonies could count as third strikes, and would have opened the possibility of resentencing for those with nonviolent second and third offenses.

Among victories won by labor-backed candidates in various legislative elections:

• Fresno area Democrat Jim Costa decisively defeated Republican challenger Roy Ashburn for the congressional seat in the 20th district.

• Incumbent state Sen. Michael Machado beat back a sharp challenge from Stockton Mayor Gary Podesto, a Republican.

• In the Long Beach-San Pedro area, Betty Karnette handily defeated her Republican opponent for a hotly contested open Assembly seat.

• Joe Baca of the Inland Empire and Gloria Negrete McCloud from Pomona won their Assembly contests decisively, while in central California new Latino Assemblyman Pedro Nava was elected in District 35.

In Los Angeles, a measure to raise the sales tax to pay for more police and sheriffs failed to get the required two-thirds majority, but a bond measure to fund cleaning of beaches and storm drains prevailed.

In San Francisco, a ballot measure calling for bringing all U.S. troops home from Iraq passed with 63 percent of the vote, while a measure to allow parents to vote in school board elections regardless of citizenship was lost.

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