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Cooley Concedes California Attorney General Race To Kamala Harris

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California Attorney General candidates Steve Cooley (left) and Kamala Harris (Kevork Djansezian/Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California Attorney General candidates Steve Cooley (left) and Kamala Harris (Kevork Djansezian/Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Republican Steve Cooley conceded the California attorney general’s race to Democrat Kamala Harris on Wednesday, giving Democrats a sweep of all statewide offices and ushering in the first woman and first minority elected to the post.

With only 150,000 votes remaining to be counted three weeks after Election Day, there aren’t enough outstanding votes for Cooley to overtake Harris, said Cooley’s political consultant, Kevin Spillane.

Harris, the San Francisco district attorney, is up by 51,000 votes, a margin of half a percentage point, in the closely fought north-south battle between the prosecutors from California’s two most prominent cities. Cooley is Los Angeles County district attorney.

Spillane said Cooley called Harris to congratulate her.

KCBS’ Barbara Taylor Reports:

In a statement issued by her campaign, Harris said she would wait to make a victory declaration until a news conference next week, after counties complete their final vote counts.

“Harris thanks district attorney Cooley for a spirited campaign and looks forward to working together on the critical public safety challenges facing California,” the statement said.

Harris, 46, replaces Democrat Jerry Brown, who gave up the office in his successful bid for governor.

Harris, a rising Democratic star and daughter of a black father and a mother from India, won backing from President Barack Obama and was named one of the nation’s most inspiring women by Oprah Winfrey’s O, The Oprah Magazine. She counts Barbra Streisand, DreamWorks co-founders David Geffen and Steven Spielberg, and actress Reese Witherspoon among campaign contributors.

The race drew national attention because of California’s size and its ability to influence national policy. During his tenure, Brown sued the federal government over former President George W. Bush’s refusal to accept state laws on automobile emission standards. Obama moved to set national standards this year, partly as a result.

Harris ran as a reformer who began alternative tough-love programs in San Francisco for drug offenders and parents whose children miss too much school. Prosecutors and lawmakers should attack the underlying social problems that lead to crime as well as the criminal, she said.

She said her priority as attorney general will be fixing California’s revolving-door prison system. The state needs to be smarter on crime in an era of budget cutbacks and crowded prisons and jails, she said during the campaign.

She also made environmental protection a keystone of her campaign, drawing a contrast with Cooley’s reluctance to oppose a November ballot initiative that would have delayed implementing California’s landmark 2006 global warming law. The measure failed.

Harris’ win was hailed by gay rights supporters. Harris, like Brown and Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said she would not defend Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure outlawing gay marriages. The law was recently overturned by a federal judge, and Harris said she won’t push to reinstate what she believes is an unconstitutional violation of civil rights.

She prevailed despite negative publicity from two San Francisco controversies.

The attorney general’s office took over the investigation of tainted evidence blamed on an employee in the San Francisco police crime lab. She also had to make changes in her office after admitting her prosecutors failed to research and disclose police officers’ criminal or disciplinary histories to defense attorneys.

Both revelations forced the dismissal of hundreds of criminal cases and jeopardized thousands more.

In a statement issued by his campaign, Cooley, 63, noted that he won more votes than any other Republican running for statewide office in California. He blamed California’s Democratic landslide on Election Day for his inability to win.

Voters put Democrats in the governor’s post and every other statewide office, re-elected U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and retained wide Democratic majorities in both houses of the Legislature.

Spillane blamed a poor showing by Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, who lost to Brown by 12 percentage points, and Cooley’s inability to raise enough money for statewide television ads.

In his statement, Cooley said, “It is unfortunate that someone who is a nonpartisan, non-politician could not overcome the increasingly partisan tendencies of the state, even for an office that by its nature necessitates a nonpartisan approach.”

Cooley prematurely declared victory on Election Day before falling behind as more votes were counted.

Harris won despite Cooley’s attempt to portray himself as tougher on crime. He was backed by law enforcement groups and national corporations that capitalized on Harris’ personal opposition to the death penalty, notably her refusal to seek the death penalty for the killer of an undercover San Francisco police officer in 2004.

Like Brown, Harris promised to put her own views aside and enforce the state’s capital punishment law as attorney general.

Cooley said he plans to serve out the remaining two years of his term as district attorney.

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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