Jerry Brown decided to seek the governor's office rather than run for re-election.
San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris emerged as the top vote-getter Tuesday among a field of candidates for the Democratic nomination, including Facebook privacy officer Chris Kelly, who sank more than $12 million from his personal fortune into the campaign.
In other statewide races, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, best known for ushering in an brief era of gay marriage, defeated Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who boasted a political pedigree with deep roots in voter-rich Southern California.
The 42-year-old second-term mayor says he can help sway young voters to the Democratic ticket, led by 72-year-old gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown.
"I think there's a generational appeal to our candidacy," Newsom said Tuesday. "I think we can provide a certain energy to the Democratic ticket in terms of raising money and getting out the vote."
Hahn, whose brother and father were Los Angeles politicians, conceded the race in an e-mail to supporters, saying she'll support Newsom.
"He has done some groundbreaking work as mayor of San Francisco and I know that he will bring that experience to Sacramento to shake things up," she wrote.
Newsom will face Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, the Republican incumbent recently appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger over the objections of his own party because he crossed the aisle last summer to vote with Democrats on a state budget that included a tax increase. Maldonado beat state Sen. Sam Aanestad.
Aanestad wrote in an e-mail to supporters that he would throw his weight behind Maldonado in defeating Newsom's "far-left agenda."
"California Democrats, independents and Republicans have had enough of that very liberal agenda that for too long has driven our state into terrible fiscal mess," he said.
If elected attorney general, Harris would become the first woman, first black and first Asian to hold the state's chief law enforcement job.
Kelly had reminded voters throughout the primary campaign of Harris' reluctance to seek the death penalty and San Francisco's reputation as a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants.
Cooley was seen as the favorite entering the race. He has gained national recognition for pursuing the prosecutions of fugitive filmmaker Roman Polanski and Michael Jackson's doctor. He is seen as politically moderate.
Brown decided to seek the governor's office rather than run for re-election.
Down ballot, Californians also chose nominees for controller, insurance regulator, secretary of state and tax collector.
Sacramento Assemblyman Dave Jones won the Democratic nomination for insurance commissioner over fellow Assemblyman Hector De La Torre of South Gate. Former Assemblyman Mike Villines was battling Brian Fitzgerald in a surprisingly close contest for the Republican nomination. Fitzgerald works in the Department of Insurance.
The position will play a pivotal role in monitoring how the new federal health care reform law is implemented.
Voters chose state Sen. Tony Strickland as the Republican nominee for state controller, a job that involves watching over roughly $100 billion in spending. Strickland will face Democratic incumbent John Chiang in the November general election — a rematch of their contest four years ago, when Chiang beat Strickland by slightly more than 10 percentage points.
Strickland wasn't going to enter this year's race but decided to give it a shot when GOP gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman asked him to run.
A dozen candidates also filed for the nonpartisan superintendent of public instruction, which oversees state policies for local school districts.
State Assemblyman Tom Torlakson of Antioch, who was supported by teachers' unions, and retired schools superintendent Larry Aceves will go on to a runoff in November. State Sen. Gloria Romero of Los Angeles finished third and is out of the running.
Former NFL journeyman and Irvine real estate agent Damon Dunn defeated Orange County lawyer Orly Taitz for the Republican nomination for secretary of state. Dunn, who had never voted before 2009, will face Democratic incumbent Debra Bowen in November.
In the race for the heavily Republican second district for the Board of Equalization, acting board member Barbara Alby was fighting to save her job. With 76 percent of the precincts reporting, she was behind state Sen. George Runner of Lancaster and former Assemblyman Alan Nakanishi.
The other three elected members of the board, which collects state taxes, were expected to keep their seats.