Although early returns were fragmentary, it appeared Democrats would hold on to their commanding, 27-to-18 seat majority of California's 45 congressional seats in Tuesday's elections.
But three Republican newcomers held comfortable leads in bids to replace California congressional incumbents--all GOP lawmakers--who are retiring from Congress this year.
Simi Valley Mayor Elton Gallegly was coasting toward an easy victory in the race to replace Rep. Bobbi Fiedler of Northridge in the 21st Congressional District, while Assemblyman Ernie Konnyu appeared on track to take over from Rep. Ed. Zschau of Los Altos. Assemblyman Wally Herger also seemed likely to assume the seat of Rep. Eugene Chappie of Chico. Chappie retired from Congress, while Fiedler and Zschau battled each other in the June primary for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, which Zschau eventually won.
"I feel very, very, very good," Herger told reporters after returns showed him leading his Democratic challenger in all of his Northern California district's 12 counties.
On the whole, California's 45 congressional races have become predictable affairs because of wholesale gerrymandering engineered by Democrats in 1980, which turned most districts into safe enclaves for Democratic and Republican incumbents.
The outcome of the general election contest for Fiedler's 21st District seat was never in serious doubt. The staunchly Republican district sprawls from the western San Fernando Valley across southern Ventura County and even includes far-off Santa Catalina Island.
Last June, Gallegly clawed his way to the top of a bruising GOP primary against Tony Hope, a longtime Washington lobbyist who is the son of comedian Bob Hope. Underscoring the inevitable, Gallegly this fall outspent his Democratic rival, Avalon City Councilman Gilbert R. Saldana, by about 5 to 1.
An unflinching backer of President Reagan, Gallegly, 42, will become the first national lawmaker from the the fast-growing eastern Ventura County region. Gallegly, a realtor, campaigned largely on his record as mayor of the city of 90,000. He pointed to Simi Valley's impressive record of economic growth and his success at restructuring its police force as evidence of his management skills.
Unlike the 21st District, the 12th District Silicon Valley seat being vacated by Zschau featured an almost even split between registered Republicans and Democrats. Still, it had been in the hands of moderate Republicans for nearly two decades, first former Rep. Pete McCloskey and more recently Zschau.
During the campaign, Konnyu, a 49-year-old Hungarian emigre, heavily outspent his Democratic opponent, political newcomer and Cupertino attorney Lance T. Weil. Konnyu was first elected to the state Assembly in 1980 and established himself as a champion of Workfare, the recently enacted bipartisan program that requires certain welfare recipients to work or go to school in exchange for public aid.
In the far northern 2nd District, Democrat Stephen C. Swindiman, a Shasta County supervisor, had hoped to capitalize on growing frustration with Reagan Administration farm policies to knock off his Republican opponent, Herger, in the race to replace Chappie.
But, despite a Democratic edge in registrations in the district that stretches from the Sacramento area to the Oregon state line, Herger, a three-term assemblyman, was expected to benefit from a voter tendency in the area to favor hard-line conservatives like himself.
Though Herger, 41, says he is an enthusiastic supporter of most Reagan Administration policies, he echoed Swindiman's complaints during the campaign about Washington's inability to reduce the nation's trade deficit and force Japan to import more American farm products and other goods.