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DECISION '94 : Harman-Brooks Race Uncertain; Beilenson in Squeaker


First-term Rep. Jane Harman was in danger of losing her seat to Rancho Palos Verdes Councilwoman Susan Brooks in Tuesday's elections, but Rep. Anthony Beilenson apparently fought off a tough challenge and two other Westside Democratic incumbents breezed to victory.

Brooks, a Republican, and Harman (D-Rolling Hills) each had about 48% of the vote at last count Wednesday. Brooks led by 93 votes, 82,415 to 82,322, with all the precincts counted, but an unknown number of absentee ballots remain. County officials do not expect to update the tally before Monday.

Harman and her weary supporters left her campaign party early Wednesday morning when she had a small lead over Brooks, but her advantage vanished as the votes continued to roll in.

Brooks, meanwhile, encouraged her supporters to stay hopeful until the absentee ballots are counted. "We have to keep the faith," she said. "We have to keep positive."

But Harman strategist Roy Bahr was optimistic Wednesday morning that the absentee votes would put Harman back on top. Regardless, Harman performed better than many of her incumbent Democratic colleagues across the country.

"She had established a record as an independent," Bahr said. "It's pretty clear that anyone who wasn't independent was getting swept away."

If Harman does prevail in the race, she said she would likely retain her two key committee assignments--including a seat on the influential House Armed Services Committee--when Republicans take over the House leadership.

"We're going to have bipartisan government," she said. "I'm ready for that. I operate that way. I don't think that hurts my ability to help the South Bay."

During the pitched campaign, Harman drew on the support of political allies from Washington and the endorsement of local aerospace executives and police chiefs. Brooks, who was almost unknown before the Republican primary, also drew contributions and personal support from Washington. She criticized Harman for supporting President Clinton's defense cutbacks.

Registration in the 36th District, which includes Venice, Westchester, Marina del Rey and the South Bay, gave neither candidate a decisive advantage, as 43% of voters were registered Democrats and 42% Republicans.

The election won't be resolved until the county finishes counting 100,000 absentee ballots. It's unclear how many of the ballots are from the 36th District, said Grace Romero, spokeswoman for the registrar-recorder's office.

Candidates in another Westside race are also keeping a close eye on the absentee votes. With all precincts reporting, Beilenson won 49% of the vote against 47% for Republican challenger Rich Sybert in the 24th District, which includes Malibu, Calabasas, Thousand Oaks and Woodland Hills.

Sybert did not concede defeat Wednesday morning, but Beilenson said he appears to have won narrowly.

Although Beilenson was discouraged at the Republican wins elsewhere in the country, he said Wednesday that he would have no trouble working with his new Republican colleagues.

"The President and the Republican majority in the Congress are going to be forced to relate to each other and work with each other," he said.

Unlike many Democratic incumbents nationwide, Beilenson touted his support for Clinton Administration initiatives such as the crime bill and economic package.

Sybert, a former aide to Gov. Pete Wilson and president of a Santa Barbara-based toy company, criticized Beilenson for supporting Clinton and campaigned on his own business experience.

Registration in the district is 50% Democrat and 37% Republican, but analysts considered it a swing district because the Republican voters were seen as more likely to go to the polls.

Two other incumbent Democratic congressmen breezed to victory over political newcomers in the Westside. Rep. Henry Waxman was elected to his 11th term with a decisive win over businessman Paul Stepanek, while Rep. Julian Dixon easily defeated businessman Ernie Farhat.

Dixon won his ninth term by topping Farhat 78% to 17% in the reconfigured 32nd district, which includes Crenshaw, Culver City, Exposition Park, Mar Vista and Palms. The district's registration of 77% Democrat and 13% Republican overwhelmingly favored Dixon.

Waxman needed little campaigning to defeat Stepanek, 68% to 28%, in the affluent 29th District, which includes Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Santa Monica and West Los Angeles. Registration in the district runs 59% Democrat and 26% Republican.

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