Lara wins for state insurance commissioner—another loss for California right-of-center candidates

Adding insult to the debilitating injury California’s Republican Party sustained on Election Day, Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara has beaten Republican-turned-political independent Steve Poizner to become the the state’s next insurance commissioner.

Poizner, who served in the job between 2006 and 2010, dropped his Republican label before running again for his old job, arguing that the position should be nonpartisan.

“I really do want to be a pioneer for this because if I’m successful I’m hoping lots of people will run as an independent,” he told CALmatters before the election.

So much for that.

Poizner’s change of partisan heart was also widely seen as a savvy strategic move for a center-right candidate hoping to win in California. California voters haven’t elected a person with an “R” next to his or her name for statewide office since 2006 (the last two were former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the Poizner himself).

But Lara’s victory may show just how deep the electorate’s antipathy towards the GOP runs—barring not only current Republicans from office but former members of the party as well. Poizner earned the endorsement of virtually every newspaper in the state and nearly twice as much money was spent on behalf of his campaign, which  blanketed California with ads touting his experience and political pragmatism. In contrast, one of the most prominent pro-Lara ads of the campaign season was simply a re-run of a Poizner campaign video from 2010, in which he touted his conservative credentials on immigration policy and announced that he was, in his words, representing the “Republican wing of the Republican Party.”

The Associated Press called the race for Lara today. With his victory, not a single Republican—current or former—will hold a statewide office in California.

And as California’s protracted count of close races rolls on, a growing number of GOP-held legislative and congressional seats have flipped to the Democrats. The latest tonight: Assemblywoman Catharine Baker of Dublin, who announced she had called her Democratic opponents, Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, to congratulate her. Mindful of her purple district, Baker was known as a moderate who worked across the aisle.

Lara will replace the current insurance commissioner, Democrat Dave Jones, overseeing, among other things, the state’s residential, auto and casualty insurance markets as well as the bail bonds industry. Lara will be California’s first openly gay statewide office holder.

Learn more about Ricardo Lara and where he stands on key policy issues facing the state’s insurance markets here.

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