Despite some signs of an anti-incumbency movement, every state senator, Assembly member and congressman running for reelection in the San Gabriel Valley won Tuesday, including Sen. Ruben S. Ayala (D-Chino), who survived a Republican onslaught built on the theme that he had served too long.
Ayala, who has been in the Senate for 16 years, won by 6,000 votes over Assemblyman Charles W. Bader (R-Pomona), who gave up a safe Assembly seat to run against Ayala, spending two years and more than $1 million on the effort.
Voters elected three new Assembly members, including Jim Brulte, former chief aide to Bader, who will replace his former boss in the 65th Assembly District. Paul Horcher, a Diamond Bar city councilman, scored a surprisingly easy victory in the 52nd Assembly District and Xavier Becerra, a state deputy attorney general, won decisively in the 59th Assembly District.
Horcher and Becerra won posts that became vacant when their predecessors were elected earlier this year to the state Senate. Horcher takes a seat formerly held by Sen. Frank Hill (R-Whittier) and Becerra succeeds Sen. Charles M. Calderon (D-Whittier).
In one of the state's most closely watched legislative races, Ayala was outspent but staged a strong get-out-the-vote drive in Democratic precincts on Election Day to pull out the victory.
The theme of Bader's campaign, repeated in frequent mailers, was that Ayala, 68, had been in office too long and had lost touch with his constituents. Bader was counting on strong support from the newcomers who have moved into Chino Hills and other housing boom areas to swing the district into the Republican column.
Larry Sheingold, Ayala's campaign manager, said Ayala's problem at the start of the campaign was that he was not well-known because of the massive influx of newcomers to the district, which stretches east from Pomona to San Bernardino.
He said Ayala raised more than $900,000 and spent much of it on promotional efforts during the summer to make himself better-known. However, that strategy seemed risky when it left him with little money for the final days of the campaign. In fact, Ayala stopped airing cable television ads during the final week of the campaign for lack of funds.
Bader, meanwhile, according to his own estimate spent $1.1 million, though Sheingold said the figure was more than $1.3 million. However, Bader's mailing blitz in the final days of the campaign wasn't enough.
In the 16th state Senate District, which includes part of Pasadena and Altadena, Sen. Don Rogers (R-Bakersfield) received an unexpectedly strong challenge from former Democratic Assemblyman Ray Gonzales.
Rogers lost the San Gabriel Valley portion of the district by a 2-to-1 margin, but still won by 10,000 votes. Rogers won 51.5% of the total vote to 44.5% for Gonzales and 4% for the Libertarian candidate, Kenneth Saurenman of Pasadena.
Gonzales said he would have done better if he had received financial help from the state Democratic Party. He called the party's political leadership "ethically bankrupt," saying it raised millions to defeat political reform measures on the ballot but gave him no support.
Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles) won nearly 70% of the vote to defeat two opponents, and Calderon won a new four-year term with 63% of the vote, a slight reduction from the margin he had in a special election for the seat in April.
In the 52nd Assembly District, Horcher captured an easy victory over Democrat Gary Neely, winning 58% of the vote to Neely's 41%.
The race was a bruising one, with a handful of dissident Republicans launching a last-minute mail campaign attacking Horcher. In addition, three of Horcher's Republican primary opponents refused to endorse him, saying he had alienated them with his campaign tactics.
But Horcher was bolstered by a Republican voter registration edge over Democrats, a campaign stressing his environmental concerns and a willingness to spend money, including more than $300,000 of his own.
Horcher said Neely "made some fatal mistakes" in the campaign, including support of Proposition 128, the so-called Big Green initiative rejected by voters.
Neely, meanwhile, attributed his loss to a lack of campaign funds. "That, and a gerrymandered district, what can you do?" he said Wednesday.
In the 59th Assembly District, Republican Leland Lieberg waged a vigorous campaign, but was hurt by the fact that district Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1. Becerra, speaking over the noise of mariachis at a jubilant celebration party in Montebello election night, credited his victory to hard work by his supporters.
Assembly members Sally Tanner (D-Baldwin Park), Richard Mountjoy (R-Monrovia), Pat Nolan (R-Glendale), Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles) and William Lancaster (R-Covina) were easy winners.