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Nolan, Other Incumbents Reelected by Large Margins

November 10, 1988|MARTHA WILLMAN and STEPHANIE O'NEILL | Times Staff Writers

A Democratic challenger who waged a serious campaign against an entrenched Republican state senator made little headway at the ballot box Tuesday.

Another Democratic challenger with only meager resources tallied surprising support--although still losing--in his race against an incumbent whose name was linked to an FBI "sting operation" at the state Capitol.

The two races--challenging veteran Glendale incumbents state Sen. Newton R. Russell and Assemblyman Pat Nolan--provided the only glimmer of interest in local races in Glendale and northeast Los Angeles where results otherwise were predictable.

In the predominantly Republican northern portion of the area, GOP incumbents easily won reelection, while Democrats in the southern area--with its large Democratic registration--also were secure in their seats.

Gelber Spent $90,000

One of the most serious challenges by an underdog candidate was mounted by Louise C. Gelber, the Democratic candidate who took on Russell in the 21st State Senate District. Gelber, who had sought office only once before--in 1968--pumped an estimated $90,000 into her race, an unusually high sum in a district that has a voter registration of 55% Republican and 35% Democratic.

Gelber, 66, downplayed her Democratic affiliation, working instead to pick up swing votes from Republicans and those who declined to state a party preference. Unlike most political newcomers, Gelber was able to scrape together enough money for one political mailing--a flyer sent to about 32,000 mixed-registration households.

Despite her efforts, Gelber tallied 28.3% of the vote--far less than the percentage of Democratic registration and only slightly better than previous Democratic candidates who had campaigned only slightly.

Russell, 61, a 24-year Senate veteran and minority whip, spent about $130,000 on the campaign and won 68.4% of the vote.

The greatest gain for the least money and manpower was registered in the 41st Assembly District, where Democratic candidate John Vollbrecht won 38.3% of the vote in his third bid against Nolan, the powerful Assembly minority leader.

The vote was Vollbrecht's strongest showing against Nolan, and more than 8 percentage points higher than the votes he won in his 1986 race against Nolan..

Vollbrecht, 40, garnered 43,420 votes to Nolan's 65,739 in a district with a voter registration of 40.9% Democrat to 49.4% Republican.

Vollbrecht said that until last summer, he never expected to beat Nolan. But when Nolan, 38, became one of four Assembly members targeted in the FBI investigation into political corruption at the State Capitol, his hopes were buoyed.

When the so-called "sting operation" became known on Aug. 24, Vollbrecht said, "We thought maybe this was our chance."

He began campaigning about 40 hours a week but did not actively seek campaign contributions.

Two weeks before the election, Vollbrecht learned that a poll of Republican voters conducted by a market research firm showed that 51.5% were unaware that Nolan was targeted in the Capitol sting operation.

Armed with the poll, Vollbrecht flew to Sacramento and received a $20,000 contribution from Assemblyman Richard Floyd (D-Gardena). Vollbrecht used the money to produce two separate mailers that were sent to 35,000 Republican homes within the 41st District. The mailers focused mainly on the FBI investigation.

But many of the mailers arrived at Republican households on the same day, rather than arriving on Friday and Monday as had been planned.

There were other problems. Vollbrecht placed a full-page campaign advertisement in a local Armenian paper that was to have been delivered to readers on the Friday before the election. But the paper didn't arrive until Election Day.

Despite the snafus, Vollbrecht's improved showing was significant. "We think we made some inroads," Vollbrecht, an Eagle Rock contractor, said Wednesday morning.

Another Democratic challenger who campaigned hard but made little significant gain in a Republican district was John G. Simmons, 71, who ran for the second time against Rep. Carlos Moorhead (R-Glendale). Moorhead, 66, won his ninth term in the House of Representatives with 69.3% of the vote. Simmons tallied 26.2%.

In the heavily Democratic Assembly, state Senate and congressional districts south of Glendale, Democratic incumbents were returned to office with margins even greater than their party's registration.

The level of campaigning by Republican challengers had little effect on voter response.

David Frankel, an accountant who was all but invisible in his challenge of Democratic Assemblyman Burt Margolin in the 45th District, still finished as well as Republicans who campaigned more aggressively in adjoining districts.

Margolin, who said his primary campaign goal was to increase voter turnout, won a fifth term with 69% of the vote, almost 10% more than the Democratic registration edge of 59.5% to the Republican's 26.9%. The district includes Los Feliz and much of Burbank and Hollywood.

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