SACRAMENTO — After watching her lead grow daily as election officials work their way through 700,000 late absentee ballots, Sen. Dianne Feinstein is expected to declare victory over her Republican challenger, Rep. Mike Huffington, at a news conference today.
With 220,000 ballots to be counted as of late Thursday, the Democratic incumbent's lead had grown to 162,000 votes from about 123,000 a week ago. That means that Huffington would need more than 85% of the remaining votes in order to win--an inconceivable tally.
Publicly, Feinstein campaign officials will not comment on whether she plans to proclaim victory at her San Francisco news conference.
"She'll make comments about the latest vote tally and talk a bit about her vote," was all that Feinstein campaign spokesman Bill Chandler would say.
Huffington, who was en route to Washington late Thursday, could not be reached for comment. But his campaign communications director, Jennifer Grossman, said the congressman from Santa Barbara had no plans to concede until all the votes are counted.
"It's always been our principle and our belief that until those final ballots are counted and those voters' voices are heard that it would be inappropriate for either candidate to call the race," Grossman said.
When asked about the tradition of candidates' making concession statements when defeat appears inevitable, Grossman replied: "If he makes a statement, it will be because it is the appropriate time to do so, not because the political handbook says he has to."
Feinstein's state director, Kam Kuwata, contended that it has been clear for more than a week to everyone but Huffington that the freshman congressman will lose in his bid to step up to the Senate. "We could wait forever for Michael Huffington and I don't think he'll ever be gracious in defeat," Kuwata said. "Only Mike Huffington is dreaming the impossible dream right now."
At the close of the business day Thursday, the secretary of state's office had Feinstein leading with 3,835,405 votes to Huffington's 3,674,220 with about 220,000 absentee ballots to be counted.
In another contentious race still being counted, which will determine whether Republicans can take control of the state Assembly, Rancho Palos Verdes Mayor Steve Kuykendall, a Republican, inched farther ahead and had a 483-vote lead over Assemblywoman Betty Karnette (D-Long Beach). His campaign estimates that 2,000 absentee ballots are left to be tallied in the 54th Assembly District, which includes Long Beach and the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
"It's not many votes that are left," Kuykendall said. "I won't say anything until it's completely in the bag. But I'm feeling a lot better, This stuff is so nerve-racking."
Meanwhile, in the 36th Congressional District, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Rolling Hills) widened her lead to 562 votes over Republican opponent Susan Brooks. That makes it more doubtful that Brooks can win the South Bay seat.
"It's beyond our wildest dreams," said Harman's campaign spokesman, Roy Behr, when the latest tally came in.
Harman had 91,248 votes to Brooks' 90,686. The two campaigns estimate that there are fewer than 4,000 absentees left to be counted.
Harman has not declared victory, and Brooks refuses to concede. In fact, Brooks is in Washington to be part of a House transition team appointed by incoming Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). While there, she has appeared with seven Republican representatives-elect at news conferences and network evening news broadcasts.
Harman had been 93 votes behind the day after the election, and many political analysts predicted that Brooks would widen her lead in absentee votes.