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California Elections / CONGRESS : 1 Democrat Loses, 2 Others Headed Toward Defeat : GOP wave swamps incumbent Schenk, threatens Hamburg and Lehman, and carries ex-TV star Sonny Bono into open seat.


One Democratic congressional incumbent was defeated, two others appeared headed for defeat Tuesday and three others--including longtime veteran Vic Fazio--were in close races as California Republicans were riding the same political wave that sent dozens of other GOP candidates to Congress.

Fazio of West Sacramento, an eight-term member and head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was facing a strong challenge by Republican Tim LeFever, an attorney and former aide to former Lt. Gov. Mike Curb.

With virtually all the vote counted, Democrat Lynn Schenk of San Diego lost to Republican Brian Bilbray, a San Diego County supervisor. And Democratic incumbents Richard Lehman of the San Joaquin Valley and Dan Hamburg of Ukiah were trailing substantially, with much of the vote counted in their races. Schenk and Hamburg are first-termers; Lehman was seeking his seventh term.

Other Democratic incumbents in tight races were veteran George Brown of Colton and first-termer Jane Harman of Rolling Hills.

Based on the early returns, no Republican incumbent appeared in trouble.

Entertainer-turned-GOP candidate Sonny Bono, of Palm Springs, won a race for an open seat, and Ken Calvert, a first-term Republican who had struggled to overcome a scandal caused when he was caught with a prostitute, was ahead of his Democratic challenger, whom Calvert had accused of refusing to acknowledge that he is gay.

Bono, in a television interview Tuesday night, said, "First on my political plate is to have a romantic dinner with my wife."

In the race to succeed Michael Huffington of Santa Barbara, a Republican who left Congress after one term to run for the U.S. Senate, Democratic candidate Walter Capps, a writer and religion professor, was in a close race with Republican Assemblywoman Andrea Seastrand of San Luis Obispo.

Democrats had a 30-22 advantage in the California delegation. Republicans would gain control if they win five seats now held by Democrats.

Across the state, Republicans had sought to turn congressional campaigns into referendums on President Clinton.

Schenk and Harman were attacked by their Republican opponents for voting for Clinton's 1993 budget, which raised taxes for the affluent. Both of the Democrats sought to distance themselves from Clinton by stressing their independence during their campaigns.

Harman's race against Republican Susan Brooks, a Rancho Palos Verdes City Council member, illustrated the GOP effort to score points by linking incumbents with the President. Brooks' campaign reprinted a photo that showed Harman beaming at Clinton during a White House ceremony.

As she did in 1992, Harman aired television commercials throughout the Los Angeles market, the only House candidate to do so this year. "My party leadership isn't always happy with me," she said in one.

Still, when Clinton came to Los Alamitos to announce that McDonnell Douglas Corp. would be allowed to sell commercial jetliners to China, Harman was at his side.

Meanwhile, abortion became the hot issue in the final days of the race between Schenk and Bilbray. Schenk, backed by the National Organization for Women, attacked Bilbray's description of himself as pro-choice, noting that he endorses a number of restrictions on access to abortion and opposes public funding of abortions for poor women.

Hamburg faced a rematch with Republican Frank Riggs, whom he beat in 1992. The race featured sharp ideological splits on almost all facets of foreign and domestic policy, as well as such local issues as how to save the redwood trees.

Republicans had also expressed hope of beating one or more of four longtime Democrats from California: Anthony Beilenson of Woodland Hills, Brown, Fazio and Lehman.

Republican Richard Sybert, a former top aide to Gov. Pete Wilson, branded Beilenson as a liberal and career politician who is out of step with the district. With a $1-million campaign war chest and help from national GOP leaders, Sybert outspent the 11-term incumbent by more than 2 to 1.

Lehman was viewed as vulnerable because reapportionment two years ago left him with a district where registration is split nearly evenly, but voters have conservative tendencies.

Struggling to survive, Lehman and other Democrats counterattacked by blasting their opponents for signing the GOP's Contract With America, asserting that it blindly promises budget cuts regardless of how much havoc they could cause in California.

The GOP unleashed three anti-Clinton television commercials in much of the state recently that urged voters to "send Clinton's Congress home."

In the state's southernmost district on the border between San Diego and Mexico, the Republican challenger, Mary Alice Acevedo, even invoked Hillary Rodham Clinton against the first-term incumbent, Democrat Bob Filner. Her television commercials featured a picture of the First Lady and a quote from her calling Filner "a treasure."

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