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Californians vote amid rare turn in presidential spotlight

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Democratic presidential rivals Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders prepared for a final contest in California with a blitz of TV ads and hand-shaking in a state where voters have enjoyed a rare turn in the spotlight this year.

Voting in Tuesday's presidential contest came a day after Clinton captured enough commitments from delegates to become the Democrats' presumptive nominee, according to an Associated Press count.

Clinton hopes a win in California, which she carried in the 2008 presidential primary over then-Sen. Barack Obama, would be a capstone to a history-making candidacy. Sanders wants to win the delegate-rich state to bolster his case that he is the best positioned to beat presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in the fall.

Sanders' campaign said it was a "rush to judgment" to declare Clinton the presumptive nominee given superdelegates can switch their support before the Democratic convention in late July.

In the other marquee contest Tuesday, California voters faced a historic choice for U.S. Senate that could for the first time pit two Democrats against one another in November. To wit: Both are women, both minorities.

Polls have shown California Attorney General Kamala Harris as the favorite, followed by U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Orange County. Two former Republican party chairmen and a physicist-turned-software developer are among several GOP contenders for the seat, but none has polled above single digits or raised significant campaign funds in the overwhelmingly Democratic state.

The crowded Senate ticket features 34 names in all, though, and voters may have a tough time differentiating.

"There were so many names. I didn't know 80 percent of them," said Fresno correctional officer Juan Perez. He ended up choosing Sanchez.

Californians are also making choices in congressional and legislative contests statewide, narrowing the field for November.

In the state Legislature, Republicans are trying to prevent Democrats from gaining a two-thirds majority in both chambers, which would give the party a virtual lock on political power. In a further sign of the weakened state of the GOP in California, Democrats face the prospect of several same-party runoffs that have attracted millions of dollars in outside spending in a tug-of-war between the party's moderate and liberal wings.

California's primary has triggered a surge of interest, with voter registration hitting a primary election record of 17.9 million. The Field Poll estimates that 45 percent of registered voters will participate in the primary, about two-thirds of them by mail.

Many of those voters are new registrants who are not affiliated with either party. The state Democratic Party allows them to vote in its presidential race, but they must request a ballot, and many are unaware of the rules.

Some voters were surprised — and disappointed — to learn Tuesday they couldn't vote for their preferred presidential candidate.

When registered Green Party voter Christine Peterson, 59, of San Francisco asked for a Democratic ballot to vote for Sanders, she was told no.

"He's almost an independent, he's almost a Green ... even though he's on the Democratic ticket," Peterson said. "He is much more on my page." She's ended up writing in the name of a person who had previously run on a Green ticket.

Elysse Crabtree, 24, was unaffiliated and changed her registration to Democrat expressly so she could vote for Sanders.

"I'm usually not very political and I don't get very involved in elections but I feel like Bernie is trustworthy, and I feel like he's an honest candidate," she said after leaving a polling station at a Santa Ana synagogue. "I've never been able to say that before."

Partly as a result of the confusing rules, more voters than usual have been requesting replacement ballots, said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.

"We have a lot of confusion right now. The rules vary from county to county," she said.

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