Assemblyman Frank Hill, who was backed by state Republican leaders despite being targeted by an FBI corruption investigation, won the Republican nomination in a special election Tuesday to replace former state Sen. William Campbell.
Hill (R-Whittier) received 15,043 votes, or 22.8%, in the 31st State Senate District race. The district is split between Los Angeles and Orange counties. Most of Hill's support was in Los Angeles.
Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach) finished a close second, with 14,123 votes, or 21.4%.
Janice Graham, a former schoolteacher and unsuccessful challenger to Campbell in 1988, won the Democratic nomination with 9,357, or 14.2%.
Voter turnout was 17%, election officials said.
Since none of the candidates received more than 50% of the vote, the top vote-getters in each party--Robert Lewis of the American Independent Party, Hill and Graham--will participate in a runoff election scheduled for April 10.
Republican candidate Ron Isles, a Brea city councilman, was third, with 11,827 votes, or 18%, and Gary Miller, a Republican city councilman from Diamond Bar, finished fourth, with 10,310, or 15.6%.
Ferguson attributed Hill's strong showing to the support he had from state Republican leaders. He also said the results show that "the issue of abortion is not that strong where there are strong Republicans." Both he and Hill are against abortion. Isles was the pro-choice Republican candidate.
Hill said in a victory speech shortly before midnight, "We never said we promised you a landslide; 900 votes, that's great."
In a reference to the ongoing FBI investigation he also said, "And you know we were carrying a heavy weight around."
The audience laughed and then Hill sang, "I like that old-time rock 'n' roll."
Graham said she was looking forward to a runoff election against Hill. "It looks like I'm getting the person I wanted," she said. Graham said she will campaign strongly as a pro-choice candidate.
She said the FBI investigation of Hill "is going to be out of my hands and out of his." Hill is under investigation by the FBI in connection with a Capitol influence-peddling scandal. He has not been charged.
The rest of the field included Democrats Bradley John McFadden, who finished sixth with 3,056 votes, or 4.6%, and Thomas M. Whaling, who finished seventh, with 1,489 votes, or 2.3%. Lewis, the American Independent Party candidate, received 682 votes, or 1%.
The 31st District stretches from West Covina and Whittier in the north to Laguna Niguel in the south. Campbell held the seat for 14 years, then resigned in December to become president of the California Manufacturers Assn.
In the reapportionment after the 1980 Census, Campbell added part of Orange County to his Los Angeles district, increasing its Republican makeup. Today, Republicans in the district hold a commanding lead over Democrats, by a margin of 54% to 36%.
Gov. George Deukmejian created one of the shortest campaigns ever in California when he scheduled the special election in an announcement just before Christmas. Because of the brevity, experts predicted that the five-week race would be a brawl.
The campaign included a shouting match that erupted between GOP candidates at a public forum, exaggerated claims in mailers and relentless attacks.
In a bizarre twist, sources said a Sacramento Republican organization paid for a mailer last weekend that was sent to promote Democrat Graham. The sources said the purpose had been to help Hill by heading off Democrats who might defect to Isles over the abortion issue. Isles is the only pro-choice Republican in the race.
Isles has strongly appealed to Democratic voters in a campaign strategy similar to the formula used in the upset October victory by pro-choice Assemblywoman Tricia Hunter (R-San Marcos).
Isles sent a telegram to Democratic voters Monday that outraged Democratic Party Chairman Michael Balmages, who called the mailer flatly untrue. The telegram said in part: "The Democratic leadership agrees that no matter how hard we try, a Democrat will not be elected."
The telegram also called the other Republican candidates "right-wing extremists."
When the race was first announced, Hill and Ferguson were considered the strongest candidates, because the district is heavily Republican and they were much better known than the two Republican city council members.
Hill also seemed to have the greatest advantage because he was backed by the Republican leadership in Sacramento, and he had the greatest fund-raising ability.
But nobody expected that Isles and Miller would spend so much on the campaign. Both are independently wealthy and are expected to spend almost $1 million combined, most of it their own money.
Isles is a lawyer and former owner of an electronics manufacturing company. Miller owns a land banking firm.
With such resources, Isles and Miller have pounded an anti-incumbency campaign theme that has sent tremors all the way to Sacramento. Corruption and unethical behavior in the Capitol is so pervasive, they argued, that voters should elect a new Legislature.
100% Precincts Reporting
Votes % Frank Hill, R * 15,043 22.8 Gil Ferguson, R 14,123 21.4 Ron Isles, R 11,827 18.0 Gary Miller, R 10,310 15.6 Janice Graham, D * 9,357 14.2 Bradley McFadden, D 3,056 4.6 Thomas Whaling, D 1,489 2.3 Robert Lewis, AI * 682 1.0
Turnout: 17.0 %
* Because no candidate received more than 50% of the vote, a runoff election with the top vote-getter in each party will be held April 10.
Times staff writers Tony Marcano and Shelby Grad contributed to this report.