Assemblyman Wayne Grisham, a 17-year political veteran, was taught a lesson Tuesday by a new kid on the block--Democratic upstart Cecil N. Green, who nearly pulled off a major upset in the special 33rd state Senate election.
The Norwalk Republican, a man not accustomed to finishing second, did just that Tuesday night and in the process nearly lost the race many predicted at the outset he would win easily. Late on election night, a dejected and shaken Grisham acknowledged that his strategy of relying mostly on telephones and slick mailers to win votes in the largely suburban, blue-collar district that spills across two counties had failed, throwing him into a May 12 runoff with Green and two others.
The tactic, a Grisham trademark, had been privately criticized by GOP leaders in the campaign's closing days, and explains why party officials bused in hundreds of precinct walkers from around the state on election day. But it was not enough.
"I've learned a lesson in this race," the 64-year-old Grisham said. " . . . In a special election, the most important ingredient is walking the streets. I've been in the business long enough to realize that. Obviously, I've got to get out more."
Worked Malls, Neighborhoods
His chief opponent, Green, apparently succeeded where Grisham fell short. The 63-year-old Democrat and his army of supporters worked the shopping malls and neighborhoods of tract homes from the beginning, ringing doorbells and shaking hands. Green described it as a "people-to-people" push to sell the relatively unknown Norwalk councilman.
In the end, Green not only forced a runoff, but he nearly pulled off a upset, falling just 1,646 votes short of winning outright an election that had attracted statewide attention from the leadership of both parties.
"Nobody gave us a chance a few months ago. Now look where we are," said Larry Morse, Green's press secretary. "This is an upset, that's what it is. The Republicans must be very upset tonight. . . ."
Green finished with 27,225 votes or 47.1% of the total 57,741 cast, while Grisham had 24,767 votes or 42.9%, according to the final, unofficial results. Six other candidates divided the remaining ballots, but none tallied more than 2.8% of the vote.
Only 20.2% of the district's 285,000 voters in northwest Orange County and southeast Los Angeles County went to the polls.
About 75% of the district is in Los Angeles County, where Green beat Grisham by 8%. Grisham, who counted on winning 60% of the vote in Orange County, fell far short of that goal, winning there by less than 100 votes.
Because none of the candidates received more than 50% of the ballots cast, the top vote-getters in each party are in the runoff. Besides Grisham and Green, Libertarian Lee Connelly, 34, of Buena Park and Peace and Freedom party candidate Ed Evans, 39, of Cypress will be on the May 12 ballot.
Grisham told supporters at a Downey country club late Tuesday that he was unable to overcome the Democrats' big spending, edge in voter registration, and a series of last-minute pro-Green mailers that painted the two-term Assemblyman as an ineffective legislator and a womanizer.
Across the district at a church meeting hall in Norwalk, a jubilant Green told supporters the Republicans had not taken his candidacy seriously, a mistake that he hopes they make again in May. "Look what overconfidence did to them tonight," he said.
Party Tried to Retain Seat
It was an expensive primary and Green spent the most, about $750,000, campaign aides said. Much of it was in the form of staff and equipment shipped south from Sacramento Democrats to help Green and the party hold onto the seat vacated by former Sen. Paul Carpenter (D-Cypress), who was elected to the State Board of Equalization in November.
Grisham also was well-financed, spending close to $500,000, according to campaign Chairman Dale Hardeman.
Following the election, leaders of both parties said they would intensify efforts to win the seat in the runoff. The election is viewed in Sacramento as a key skirmish in the fight for control of the Senate in the early 1990s, when legislative reapportionment will take place. The Democrats now maintain a 23-15 edge.
"We would have loved to win this thing outright," said state Sen. James W. Nielsen (R-Rohnert Park), the senate's minority floor leader. "It would have saved us all a couple of months of hard work. But am I discouraged? Absolutely not. This is a Democratic district and we had a strong showing tonight."
Banked on Legislative Record
While party registration in the district favors the Democrats, its residents are considered conservative, the main reason many believed Grisham, a former congressman, would do well here. A strong supporter of both the Reagan and Deukmejian administrations, Grisham banked on his legislative experience and name recognition to carry him. But some, like Republican State Party Chairman Robert Naylor, said the GOP may have been overconfident and, as a result, caught short.