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Feinstein Declares Victory; Huffington Refuses to Concede : Senate race: Democratic incumbent says she will follow voters' mandate for change. GOP challenger says he will push for probe of alleged voter fraud by 'non-citizens.'


SAN FRANCISCO — Sen. Dianne Feinstein, declaring victory Friday in her bid for reelection 10 days after the polls closed, pledged to follow the voters' mandate for change and embraced many of the conservative themes of the day.

Feinstein said she will work during her new six-year term in the U.S. Senate to halt illegal immigration, require a balanced budget, end welfare dependency and "allow the people" to vote on a federal constitutional term limits amendment.

At the same time, Feinstein said she will not back down on issues that are of great importance to her, particularly abortion rights and gun control.

"I will be vigilant to assure that change does not become a retreat," she said. "I will fight any attempt to turn the clock back on a woman's right to choose or on other fundamental human rights."

As for any effort to repeal the hard-fought ban on assault rifles, the senator said: "Forget it."

Republican challenger Mike Huffington, the freshman Santa Barbara congressman who spent more than $28 million of his own money in his quest to join the Senate, released a statement late Friday refusing to concede defeat until an investigation determines "that Mrs. Feinstein has received a majority of legal votes."

"I have become very concerned about whether massive voting irregularities (by non-citizens) played a critical part in affecting this election outcome," he said.

The Democratic senator told a crowd of supporters and reporters that she was grateful to win against the nationwide tide of GOP victories.

"In many ways, this election is historic," Feinstein said. "Not only was it unprecedented in the millions of dollars spent in negative advertising, but in the huge political sea change that has moved across this country."

Feinstein's contest with Huffington was so close that the winner could not be determined on the night of the election because about 700,000 absentee ballots remained to be counted. The candidates went home for the night with Feinstein leading by about 124,000 votes.

By Friday, Feinstein had increased her lead to 152,060, with about 180,000 votes to be tabulated. In the balloting so far, Feinstein has received 46.8% of the vote to 44.9% for Huffington.

The contest between Feinstein and Huffington was the nation's most expensive congressional campaign ever, with the two sides together spending $44 million. It also was one of the nation's nastiest races, with a slew of negative television ads that persuaded many voters to dislike both candidates.

When Feinstein is sworn into the Senate in January for her first full six-year term, she will take her place in the minority party and scramble to hang on to her seats on two coveted committees, Judiciary and Appropriations.

Asked whether she thought she would lose clout now that the Senate is controlled by Republicans, she deadpanned, "That's conceivable."

Feinstein, citing her record of bipartisan cooperation, said she hopes to work with the new Republican leaders of the Senate. Indeed, much of the agenda she outlined Friday mirrored the priorities of the new Republican majority.

But Feinstein, a moderate Democrat, said she has long supported such proposals as passage of a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget and giving the President a line-item veto so he can cut spending from the budget.

Joining the clamor for an overhaul of the welfare system, the senator said she would support efforts to push chronic recipients off the dole. And on the environment, Feinstein said she would favor changing the Endangered Species Act to require that a cost-benefit analysis be conducted before designating any species to be endangered.

Although she opposed Proposition 187 during her campaign, she said voters' approval of the measure sent a strong message to Washington that the government should live up to its responsibility to stop illegal immigration at the border and end document fraud.

"Proposition 187, whatever happens to it in the courts, sends a very loud signal that it's time for the federal government to act," she said. "What I need to have happen is that we act responsibly and with fairness."

The lesson of this year's election, she said, is that voters want less government intervention in their lives. "People do not want large governmental solutions," she said, citing President Clinton's health care proposal as an example of what the voters reject.

Outspent by her opponent by more than 2 to 1, Feinstein said this race renewed her enthusiasm for campaign spending limits--a proposal she said she also would make a priority in Washington.

"This campaign is a living case in point for the need for campaign reform," she said.

Huffington, who was in Washington, could not be reached for comment Friday. But his campaign released a statement saying that he would congratulate Feinstein only after an investigation into alleged widespread voter fraud.

"I have received substantial, credible evidence both from Republican supporters and from Democrats regarding problems in this election with large numbers of non-citizens voting as a result of the mobilization effort against Proposition 187," the statement said.

However, neither the statement nor the campaign offered any specific instance.

On Monday, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge rejected a legal challenge by Republicans who alleged that illegal immigrants and children had cast absentee ballots.

But Huffington said he will work with voter fraud groups and conduct his own investigation. He also said he will call on the Immigration and Naturalization Service to help cross-check voter rolls for instances of illegal voting.

If inquiries show that Feinstein received a majority of legally cast votes, Huffington said, "then I will unhesitatingly congratulate her on her victory."

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