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Beilenson Apparent Winner Over Sybert : Congress: Challenger refuses to concede until absentee vote is counted


Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills) appeared to have won a razor-thin victory and a 10th term in Congress on Wednesday at the same time many of his veteran House colleagues nationwide were being swept out of office by an anti-incumbent, pro-Republican tide.

Returns from Tuesday's election showed Beilenson receiving 49.3% of the vote while GOP challenger Richard Sybert, a former top aide to Gov. Pete Wilson, got 47.5%.

It wasn't a big margin--3,200 votes--but it was big enough for the Beilenson team to claim a victory Wednesday even though Sybert was refusing to concede defeat. Sybert said he wanted to wait for a final tally of absentee ballots. "I haven't heard the fat lady sing yet," he said.

In the meantime, Beilenson's apparent survival puzzled even some of his colleagues. "I like Tony, but I personally don't think he fits the district," said Rep. Howard (Buck) McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), one of many local Republicans who thought Sybert would win.

Beilenson's 24th Congressional District, stretching from Sherman Oaks across the southwestern San Fernando Valley to the Conejo Valley and including Malibu, is not a safe Democratic seat. Although Democrats enjoy an edge in voter registration numbers, it is not enough to offset the greater tendency of Republicans to turn out at the polls.

This year, too, looked particularly bad for Beilenson, who faced a tenacious and well-financed candidate in Sybert. The challenger pumped more than $400,000 of his own money into the race and got additional financial help from numerous GOP heavyweights, including U. S. Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kansas) and Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia).

His campaign probably spent $850,000, Sybert said Wednesday, although others have estimated the tab may reach $1 million. At the least, the challenger outspent Beilenson by a 2-1 margin.

If these odds weren't bad enough, Beilenson was also running as a foe of Proposition 187, the measure to deny illegal immigrants certain government benefits, which won by a large margin.

So, the big question Wednesday was: How did Beilenson keep his head when so many others were losing theirs?

"This is not your conventional politician," said Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, laughing.

"This is a guy who campaigned on President Clinton's record," he said, sounding a note of disbelief. "But that's the kind of person he is, and the voters respect him because he does stand for something. It's good to see that that kind of character still counts for something with voters."

The 62-year-old lawmaker has capitalized on his image as a somewhat professorial maverick. Throughout the just-concluded campaign, Beilenson proudly proclaimed that he is only one of a handful of Congress members who refuses to take money from political action committees.

Although Beilenson and his champions cite his independence and integrity, critics say that there's also plenty of Machiavelli to account for Beilenson's political durability.

"I think it may have been his dirty politicking that pulled it out for him in the end," complained James Vaughn, Sybert's campaign manager.

Particularly nasty, Vaughn said, was Beilenson's last-minute hit piece warning that Sybert had allied himself with anti-abortion extremists to support reimposition of the so-called gag rule, the measure that had barred physicians in family planning clinics from advising women about how to get an abortion. Sybert throughout the campaign supported a woman's right to choose.

"It was a lie," Vaughn said of this mailer.

But Beilenson political consultants Craig Miller and Rick Taylor say otherwise. When he Sybert signed the GOP "Contract for America"--the wide-ranging Republican legislative agenda for the future--he agreed to support the gag rule, if only in the fine print, the two noted.

Election Coverage

* NEW ALLIES--Come January, Gov. Pete Wilson can expect help from his fellow GOP officeholders in posts long dominated by Democrats. A3

* GOP JUGGERNAUT--California Republicans not only achieved a remarkable turnaround but may be poised to seize control of state government for the first time in more than a generation. A3

* LOOKING BACK--San Fernando Valley students who fought Proposition 187 in one of the most visible campaigns in the state reflect on a lost battle. B1

* BUSINESS IMPACT--How the elections will affect insurance regulation, financial markets and key industries. D1

* ELECTION TABLES, STORIES: A23-A27, A37-A38, A42, B1, D1-D3


(Ventura County Edition, A1) Election Coverage

* CONGRESS: Rep. Elton Gallegly is poised to become a congressional leader in the campaign to crack down on illegal immigration. B1

* SUPERVISORS: The election of Frank Schillo and Judy Mikels to the Board of Supervisors could set a new course for the county. B1

* SCHOOLS: Candidates backed by conservative Christian groups knocked two incumbents off the Ventura County Board of Education, giving the board a majority of trustees endorsed by the religious right. B4

* PROPOSITION 187: The unequivocal message from every local city was the same--voters were fed up with illegal immigration. B1

* ELECTION TABLES, STORIES: A23-A27, A37-A38, A42, B1, D1-D3

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