In an election marked by the lowest voter turnout in almost half a century, Orange County voters Tuesday gave Republicans nearly total control of the county's congressional and legislative delegations by reelecting Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) and giving Republican Richard E. Longshore a victory in his state Assembly race.
Orange County, which has traditionally been a conservative GOP stronghold, now has Republicans filling all of the congressional, state Assembly and state Senate seats that lie completely within its borders for the first time since 1956.
The sweep "has been our dream for the longest time," said Tom Fuentes, chairman of the county Republican Party. "Orange County has a responsibility to deliver a Republican and conservative team, compared to what Democrats elect in West Los Angeles and San Francisco."
However, Dan E. Griset, who was losing to Longshore in the 72nd Assembly District, cautioned that "the two-party system is a needed feature" in Orange County. He said the county's all-GOP delegations might be "cut off" from power and influence in the Democratic-controlled state Legislature and U.S. Congress.
In other races, Anaheim Mayor Don R. Roth and Orange Mayor Jim Beam were locked in a battle for the vacant 4th District seat on the county Board of Supervisors. Santa Ana voters were deciding between two measures that would change the way city officials are elected, among numerous ballot propositions and city council races confronting local voters.
Dornan, who broke out to an early lead over Assemblyman Richard Robinson (D-Garden Grove), savored his triumph in what had become a bitter, hard-fought campaign. The flamboyant, conservative congressman told cheering supporters: "I am anticipating a big victory tonight. We are going to have a big victory with a wide point spread."
Shortly after the polls closed, Registrar of Voters Al Olson projected that the voter turnout among the county's estimated 1 million registered voters would be no more than 65% and possibly as low as 59%.
"It looks like the lowest turnout since 1942, and if it dips under 61%, we could be looking at the lowest county turnout in a November general election since 1928," Olson said.
After Tuesday's voting, only one state legislative seat in Orange County is not under Republican control. Democrat Paul Carpenter, whose 33rd state Senate District encompasses part of northwest Orange County, was on the way to a victory in his race for a seat on the state Board of Equalization. State officials are expected to call a special election to fill his Senate seat.
The Dornan-Robinson matchup in the 38th Congressional District was the county's most bitterly contested race. The combined fund raising for both candidates surpassed $1.1 million, making it one of the nation's most expensive congressional battles.
Both parties made the contest a top priority, pouring money and other support into the fray. Apart from two face-to-face debates, the campaign was waged entirely by mail, with both sides sending out a blizzard of slick, hard-hitting brochures in recent days.
Dornan, 53, a former three-term congressman from Santa Monica, won the seat two years ago in a bitter contest with former Rep. Jerry M. Patterson. GOP strategists believed that he would be reelected easily, citing his proven fund-raising ability and strong conservative credentials.
But Democratic leaders, mindful of their party's marginal voter registration edge in the district, believed that Robinson, 43, had an excellent chance to unseat his opponent. Robinson's campaign was backed by the powerful political organization headed by Democratic Reps. Howard Berman of Panorama City and Henry A. Waxman of Los Angeles.
During the contest, Robinson criticized Dornan for taking trips to Third World countries and neglecting the needs of his constituents. Robinson touted his record as a 12-year Assembly veteran, pledging to help relieve the district's traffic congestion problems. Dornan brushed aside Robinson's criticisms, however, defending his record as the President's "best friend" in foreign policy and stressing his record of achievement in the central Orange County district.
Although both men pledged to discuss local issues, they spent much of the campaign bickering over their respective military records. The issue surfaced when California Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Merced), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, charged in a Santa Ana appearance last month that Dornan had falsified his resume to imply that he had served in combat when he had not.