On paper, the races for four state Assembly seats in the Southeast area had the makings of Pier 6 brawls.
Veteran incumbents decided to abandon Assembly seats in the 48th, 52nd, 58th and 59th districts to seek greener pastures in the state Senate or Congress, creating the potential for wide-open contests.
But strong favorites, buoyed by huge advantages in party registration and fund raising, have emerged in each district and are expected to roll to victory in the Nov. 6 election.
Republican candidates are expected to capture the 52nd and 58th districts, while Democrats appear to be shoo-ins in the 48th and 59th districts.
In one of the scrappier races, Republican Thomas J. Mays is trying to hold off Democrat Luanne Pryor for the 58th District seat vacated by Dennis Brown (R-Los Alamitos), who departed after six terms to become a minister.
Mays, mayor of Huntington Beach, holds the edge in a district in which 50% of the registered voters are Republicans and 39% are Democrats. The district includes parts of Long Beach and Huntington Beach, and all of Seal Beach, Signal Hill and Santa Catalina Island.
Mays expects to spend about twice as much as Pryor, a longtime community activist in Long Beach who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of that city two years ago. Mays has raised $215,215, to Pryor's $56,095, according to campaign disclosure statements.
But Pryor said she's not dissuaded by the financial disparity. "I don't think this is a race that will be won by money," she said. "I think it's a race that will be won by people."
Pryor has focused on two issues: abortion and the environment.
She supports the right of women to have abortions, while Mays wants to limit abortions to instances of rape, incest, or when a woman's life is endangered by pregnancy.
Pryor also maintains that developers have been allowed to overbuild in the district and calls for more controlled growth. She accuses Mays of being too close to developers.
Mays defends his environmental record, pointing to his opposition to offshore drilling and malathion spraying. But Mays emphasized that California must create a better environment for business or risk losing thousands of jobs.
The state must "allow the business community to operate without overregulation," Mays said.
Pryor has also campaigned for gun control. "I think the spectacle of children shooting children is something any officeholder would have to be horrified by," she said.
Mays said he opposes gun control because "it doesn't work" and is an infringement on the right of ordinary citizens to defend themselves.
Pryor has also promised to fight for more public education money.
Mays said almost all issues--including crime, education and the environment--are ultimately linked with the overall state of the economy, which he pledges to improve.
"Basically the quality of life is the key issue for our district," he said. "My main focus is cooperation between the public and private sectors to help find solutions to all the problems that face us."
A third candidate, Libertarian Scott Stier, has said he will raise and spend less than $1,000 on his campaign.
In the 52nd District, Republican candidate Paul V. Horcher is still working to unify party locals after a vicious primary. But Horcher is considered the favorite over Democrat Gary Neely because the district's registration is 48.1% Republican and 42% Democrat.
Horcher is also expecting to outspend Neely by a large margin. Horcher has raised $342,794, which includes a $237,000 loan he made to his own campaign, according to campaign disclosure statements. Neely has received $22,586 in contributions.
"I don't think my opponent has put on much of a campaign," said Horcher, 39, a lawyer and Diamond Bar councilman.
Neely, 41, is pinning his hopes on a considerable crossover vote, and on winning over the more than 9% of the district's voters who do not belong to either major party. "It's going to hinge on those crossover Republican votes," said Neely, a Diamond Bar marketing consultant.
The 52nd District stretches from La Mirada and Whittier into the San Gabriel Valley, including Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights, Walnut, Diamond Bar and part of West Covina. The seat was vacated when Frank Hill (R-Whittier) was elected to the state Senate.
Two loosely organized groups of Republicans have opposed Horcher. One is campaigning directly for Neely, while members of the other group are asking Republicans not to vote for Horcher, spokeswomen for the groups said.
They attack Horcher for "flip-flopping" on various issues, including abortion. Horcher discounted the threat, saying the groups have little support. "They're just two people," Horcher said.
But Neely said his campaign is picking up support from Republican voters. Neely has labeled himself a conservative Democrat, pointing to his support of the death penalty and of Proposition 136, which requires two-thirds voter approval for all special tax increases.