Most Orange County state legislators appeared to survive primary challenges Tuesday, while in the 67th Assembly District--the contest that pitted three Republican incumbents against one another--early returns produced the day's closest race.
In the state's only three-way battle of incumbents, Tom Mays (R-Huntington Beach) was barely edging out Doris Allen (R-Cypress). Coming in third was Nolan Frizzelle (R-Fountain Valley).
At the same time, former Assemblyman Curt Pringle appeared headed for a political comeback and incumbent Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach) seemed assured of another term, as were incumbents Ross Johnson (R-Brea) and Mickey Conroy (R-Santa Ana).
Mays credited his early lead to voters in Huntington Beach, which makes up a large part of the district and where he once served on the City Council.
"People remember me," Mays said. "My polls showed I had 70% name recognition--much higher than Doris or Nolan."
Allen, who was holed up in a room at the Westin South Coast Plaza hotel in Costa Mesa, refused to talk to reporters early on. Frizzelle, who spent the first part of the day in Sacramento, said he remained optimistic that he would prevail.
Despite the guarantee that the redistricting-created battle would see the ouster of at least two Republican incumbents, the candidates were generally low-key for most of the campaign.
At the end of the contest, however, campaign "hit pieces" from the Allen and Mays camps landed in voters' mailboxes as Sacramento-based political action committees poured thousands of dollars into their reelection efforts.
Allen received more than $100,000, including $70,000 from the new Committee of Working Californians for an Effective Legislature, which is funded by teacher and state employee groups. The committee's treasurer is the attorney for the state Democratic Party.
In most of the county's seven Assembly districts, voter registration so favors Republicans that the victor in the GOP primary is considered the likely winner in the general election.
In other closely watched Republican legislative primaries, former Assemblyman Pringle appeared headed for victory in a three-way Republican contest in the 68th District. Westminster City Councilwoman Joy L. Neugebauer was in second place, followed by Buena Park Mayor Rhonda J. McCune, who is an abortion-rights advocate.
After serving one term in the Assembly, Pringle was defeated in 1990. He was haunted by allegations that his 1988 campaign had placed guards at predominantly Latino polling places to discourage voter turnout. Although a criminal investigation was dropped, the Republican Party and Pringle's campaign paid $400,000 to settle a civil lawsuit filed by Latino activists.
In the 70th District Republican primary, another abortion-rights candidate, Costa Mesa Mayor Mary Hornbuckle appeared to be failing in her campaign to oust incumbent Ferguson, who was seeking his fifth two-year term in office.
As she watched the early returns from a Newport Beach hotel, Hornbuckle said that the absentee vote did not reflect the gains she had expected to pick up from campaign mailers sent out in the last days of the campaign.
The results "are encouraging, but at this point, it's just a waiting game," Hornbuckle said. "We've had a lot of fun with the campaign, I'll have a lot of fun with whatever I do next."
Hornbuckle's candidacy received a significant boost late in the campaign when she received $80,000 in contributions from medical and labor groups, including $40,000 from the Committee of Working Californians for an Effective Legislature. And she received a visit from the president of the National Organization for Women.
But efforts to portray "Cadillac Gil" as an ineffective legislator backfired when the Orange County Republican Party's ethics committee--acting on a complaint by Ferguson--found one of Hornbuckle's campaign mailers was misleading.
And in a wide-open contest in the newly created 73rd Assembly District that straddles Orange and San Diego counties, Christian fundamentalist Bill Morrow, an Oceanside lawyer, led the crowded eight-candidate Republican field in early returns. Other front-runners were Carlsbad Mayor Claude (Bud) Lewis, and Laguna Niguel Councilwoman Patricia C. Bates, who received support from Ferguson.
"This is not a consolation speech or victory speech. It looks like it's going to be a long night," said Morrow, surrounded by about a dozen supporters at a party in Oceanside. "I'm really confident we're going to come out winners in the final tally." Rounding out the field were Oceanside Councilman S.E. Samuel Williamson; Dana Point Mayor Mike Eggers, who is also an aide to Republican U.S. Rep. Ron Packard; Carlos F. Negrete, a San Juan Capistrano lawyer who threatened to become a wild card after giving himself a $60,000 loan to finish out his campaign; and Dana Point businessman Bill Jay.