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Harman Declares Victory but Brooks Hasn't Conceded : Elections: Republican challenger pins hopes on remaining absentee ballots. Vote-counting will be finished Monday at the latest.


Two weeks after she saw many of her freshman colleagues defeated, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Rolling Hills) declared victory in her race against Rancho Palos Verdes Councilwoman Susan Brooks and celebrated at a low-key gathering that emphasized survival more than triumph.

Brooks, however, was still clinging to hopes that about 1,000 remaining votes will put her over the top, and has not conceded. The remaining ballots will be counted by Monday at the latest, elections officials said Wednesday.

Harman, a Democrat, had a 546-vote lead over Brooks after the latest absentee vote count on Tuesday. She had 93,282 votes to Brooks' 92,736 votes.

"It has now become almost mathematically impossible for the outcome of this race to change," Harman said at a news conference at her campaign headquarters on Century Boulevard near Los Angeles International Airport.

Later, she gathered with supporters at the Jerry's Famous Deli in Venice where they feasted on sandwiches and beer and expressed relief that Harman had apparently emerged a victor from one of the closest congressional battles in the country.

Many of Harman's Democratic colleagues got swept out in the GOP romp on Election Day. At the top of the ticket in Harman's South Bay district, gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Brown lost out to Gov. Pete Wilson by almost 30 percentage points. Harman was initially 93 votes behind, only to overtake Brooks as absentee ballots were counted.

"There was a national tide, but what is significant is this district resisted it," Harman said. "I'm a Democrat and I won here. Why did I win? I won because I believe my record, my style, my bipartisan support is what this district wants."

That Brooks came so close surprised many political observers because Harman is regarded as a star member of her freshman class of representatives.

"I would never have believed Jane Harman would have lost, just viewing the campaign from the outside," said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, senior associate at the Center for Politics and Economics at Claremont Graduate School. "She did everything right. Her strategy, of building bipartisan support, could not be faulted."

Harman mounted a $1-million campaign that included commercials on local TV stations, a barrage of last-minute mailers, and a list of endorsements from aerospace executives and police chiefs. She opposed Proposition 187, which limits services to illegal immigrants, but made the announcement only a week before the election.

Her campaign brought in Clinton Administration officials to meet with aerospace officials or to announce job-creating projects. But they seldom attended campaign rallies.

Just days before the election, when Clinton came to California to announce a Chinese order of McDonnell Douglas aircraft, she was side-by-side with the President. She did not attend a better-publicized campaign rally later in the day, when Clinton campaigned for Brown and Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

As the last votes trickled in from the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder's Office, it became clear that one of Harman's wisest decisions was investing in an absentee campaign.

"We've really shattered the myth in California that the Democrats don't vote absentee," Harman said. "Well, they do."

Harman teamed with Assemblywoman Debra Bowen (D-Marina del Rey) and state Sen. Ralph C. Dills (D-El Segundo), with each candidate chipping in $38,000 for the absentee campaign.

"After we saw how bad turnout was in the primary, we thought we had to do something," said Harman campaign spokesman Roy Behr.

The vote-drive targeted "inconsistent" voters--those who went to the polls in 1992 but not during the 1994 primary--on the theory that these were constituents who had yet to make up their minds about the race, said Tim Mock, Dills' campaign coordinator. The Democrats sent about 30,000 applications, already filled out with the registered voter's name and address. On Election Day, workers called about 9,000 voters who had requested and received the ballots. The callers made sure that the voters had sent ballots or knew they could still drop them off at the polls.

No one knew how well the campaign worked. In the past, Republicans have taken the lion's share of absentees, but few Democrats haven't tried to capture absentee votes. On Election Day, Brooks led Harman by eight percentage points in the early absentee count.

As votes were counted, Harman stood motionless in front of the TV at the Radisson Manhattan Beach, watching the GOP sweep Congress. Brooks already had proven an unexpectedly strong challenger, given that she was a virtual unknown but had attracted the help of party stalwarts such as Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kansas) and former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp. Harman's pre-election polling showed her well ahead of Brooks. But the morning after the election, Harman got the bad news: She was 93 votes behind.

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