It was the quintessential Election Night loser's scene--one that not even Hollywood could improve upon for pure pathos. Flanked by a teary-eyed wife and crest-fallen campaign workers, the dejected candidate sat amid the clutter of balloons and discarded campaign signs, empty beer cans and half-eaten hors d'oeuvres. Wearing a sweat shirt saying "Van Again," Lionel Van Deerlin had just learned that, after 18 years, San Diegans did not want to send him to Congress one more time.
"You just don't want to be rejected," Van Deerlin said softly the night of Nov. 4, 1980. "You want to have some say about when you retire. You don't like to have the voters do it for you."
Five-and-a-half years later, the moment remains etched in Van Deerlin's memory--and always will. Yet, from the outset, Van Deerlin faced the defeat--which he admits was as much the result of his own overconfidence as the Reagan landslide that boosted the candidacy of his opponent, Duncan Hunter--with the same grace and humor seen throughout his nine-term congressional career.
In his concession remarks, regarded by political observers as among the most gracious uttered by anyone in recent local election history, Van Deerlin observed wryly: "Having been elected by the people in this district for nine consecutive elections, it would hardly be appropriate to say that they've taken leave of their senses this time."