Democratic attorney Jane Harman, whose $1.3-million campaign promised "choice" and "change," soundly trounced Los Angeles City Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores in a newly drawn coastal district that political observers had thought would become a safe Republican seat.
Early returns had shown Flores maintaining a slim lead. But by midnight, the difference had dwindled to a near-tie and soon became a virtual Harman landslide. The final tally left Harman with 48.8% of the vote, Flores with 41.7%, and three minor party candidates splitting 9.5% among themselves.
"The turnout's so much higher than we expected," Flores campaign director Dora Kingsley said as the loss became apparent. "With a high turnout, you tend to get unexpected results."
Harman attributed her win to an intense grass-roots campaign and her efforts to reach women and moderate Republicans in the 36th Congressional District, which runs from San Pedro to Venice.
"My guess is that I got a lot of non-Democratic votes across the district," she said. "I think my victory had more to do with what I talked about and did than with the Clinton coattails. . . . It's not that there were no coattails. There were. But my focus on the defense industry and jobs for this district were key."
In another Tuesday night surprise, Republican Steve Horn, a Cal State Long Beach political science professor, defied the odds to beat Long Beach City Councilman Evan Anderson Braude in the 38th District, which includes part of San Pedro and Long Beach, extending north to Downey.
Horn managed not only to defeat the Democrat in a district favoring Democrats, but did it without contributions from special-interest political action committees or help from professional consultants.
And he succeeded despite his controversial dismissal as president of Cal State Long Beach after a budget crisis.
Horn took an early lead in the race and never lost it, ultimately defeating Braude by about 8,000 votes. The professor credited his victory to his vow that he would work with both Democrats and Republicans.
"I'm willing to work with anyone to rebuild the economy," Horn said. "I made it very clear that I could work with either president . . . President Bush, President Clinton or President Perot."
The following is a district-by-district wrap-up of results in the South Bay's four congressional elections:
Despite the best efforts of Republican challenger Nate Truman, incumbent Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) had no trouble winning in this overwhelmingly Democratic district, which encompasses Inglewood, Hawthorne and Gardena.
Garnering 82.3% of the vote, Waters, easily outdistanced Truman, who finished with a 13.6% share.
The Democratic Party's lopsided 79% to 12% voter registration advantage in the district did not stop Truman, who claims to be a distant relation of Harry S. Truman, from conducting a vigorous campaign featuring promises to create enterprise zones.
Flores, the Los Angeles city councilwoman, initially expected to win easily in the coastal 36th Congressional District, attributed her 7-point loss to Democratic challenger Jane Harman to "the three Cs: Cash, coattails and choice."
The cash came from Harman herself, who loaned her $1.3-million campaign nearly $700,000 to finance an unusual series of last-minute commercial television ads. The coattails were Clinton's, Flores said, as frustrated voters in the economically beleaguered district looked for a clean slate. And choice, she said, came into play because of Harman's unceasing reminders that she favors abortion rights while Flores does not.
"I really don't want to be negative . . . but there's no question that her money played an important role," Flores said, after seeing her early lead disintegrate into a resounding loss. "Most people do not have the ability to call up their bank and say, 'Transfer $400,000 into my campaign account.' "
Harman acknowledged that the last-minute cash infusions helped her cause. But it was her message of change and its appeal to moderate Republicans and independent voters that made the victory a resounding one, she said.
"We never thought we could win this with only Democrats," Harman said.
She also credited the Democratic voter registration efforts in the South Bay with erasing the GOP's original 4-point advantage in the newly drawn district. By election time, the Democrats' share of registered voters had risen to 42.4%--nearly even with the Republicans' 42.8%.
It was a bruising race, with Flores painting Harman as a carpetbagger from the Washington Beltway and Harman casting Flores as an entrenched career politician whose anti-abortion stance was out of step with the district's voters.
The contest was one of only three congressional races in the nation pitting a woman who supports abortion rights against one who does not. But observers said concerns about the district's defense-based economy probably played a more important role in the voters' decision than did the debate about abortion rights.