California voters put in motion Tuesday the most radical overhaul of the state's delegation to the Congress in decades, nominating candidates to compete in the fall election for both Senate seats and a record 52 positions in the 435-member House.
An estimated 6 million Californians went to the polls in the primary to vote for their parties' presidential candidates and to choose nominees for Congress, the state Legislature and a variety of county, local and judicial posts.
Secretary of State March Fong Eu had forecast a voter turnout of about 44% of registered voters, a possible record low for a presidential primary. But voting was running a little heavier than expected in Los Angeles, the state's biggest county, and ahead of the voting rate for the 1988 primary, the registrar of voters office said.
Republican and Democratic voters were nominating candidates for California's two U.S. Senate seats, the first time since statehood in 1850 that both seats were up for election in the same year. There was the possibility of a major party selecting a woman for its Senate nominee for the first time since Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas ran against Richard M. Nixon in 1950.
The final pre-election opinion polls indicated that Democrat Dianne Feinstein and appointed Republican Sen. John Seymour were favored to win their party nominations for the two-year Senate term, the remainder of the term that Republican Gov. Pete Wilson won in 1988.
Seymour, a state senator from Anaheim, was appointed by Wilson to fill the vacancy until the next general election.
The other seat at stake was the one held since 1969 by Democrat Alan Cranston. Cranston plans to retire at the end of his six-year term in January.
Both party primaries for candidates seeking the Cranston seat featured close and intensely contested races.
In the Democratic primary, the final California Poll released Monday showed Rep. Barbara Boxer of Greenbrae, in Marin County, holding a narrow lead over Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy and Rep. Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica).
On the Republican side, Rep. Tom Campbell of Palo Alto, an abortion rights advocate and two-term member of the House, held a slim lead over his bitter rival, conservative Los Angeles television commentator Bruce Herschensohn. Running third in the polls was former Palm Springs Mayor Sonny Bono.
Also at stake this year are 52 House seats from California, or 12% of the entire House membership. The California delegation grew from 45 to 52 because of the state's population growth during the 1980s. And with redistricting, triggered by the 1990 census, many incumbents found their districts drastically altered.
Some members decided to retire and four were running for the U.S. Senate. There were 15 congressional districts in which no incumbent was running.
Going into this year's election, Democrats controlled the California delegation 26 to 19. Republicans hoped to make major inroads because of the new districts.
A number of local issues were on the ballot, as well. In Los Angeles, voters decided whether to adopt Police Department reforms recommended by the Christopher Commission after the Rodney G. King beating. Among the changes that would be made by Charter Amendment F was limiting police chiefs to two five-year terms.
For a busy primary ballot, there was one irony: Not a single statewide initiative petition measure qualified. Voters statewide had only three issues to decide, all of them put on the ballot by action of the state Legislature. They were a $1.9-billion public school construction bond issue, a $900-million higher education bond issue and a constitutional amendment that allows the postponement of a reassessment, for property tax purposes, of low-income rental homes purchased by their tenants.
The voting brought to an end a campaign that was abruptly interrupted the afternoon of April 29 when a jury in Simi Valley returned not guilty verdicts on charges brought against four Los Angeles police officers in the March 3, 1991, King beating.
Within hours, the city of Los Angeles was gripped by rioting that would continue for several days and dominate what was left of the election campaign.
For a full week, news coverage of the violence virtually blocked out California's campaign for two U.S. Senate seats. The public phase of the campaign--primarily the television commercial phase--was just getting started when the riots broke out.
The riots and their causes became immediate issues in the campaign and a number of candidates, including Seymour, Levine and Democrat Gray Davis, featured riot scenes or carried messages closely attuned to the riot story--primarily that lawlessness and violence could not be tolerated.
The violence also became an issue in the Charter Amendment F campaign in efforts by challengers to unseat Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner and Superior Court Judge Joyce A. Karlin.