Democrats came from behind to win big in several key legislative races in the San Fernando Valley, including a hotly contested congressional showdown and a state Senate battle that toppled veteran lawmaker Paula Boland.
In the race for Congress in the 24th District, Democrat Brad Sherman won by a surprisingly large margin, beating presumed front-runner Richard Sybert 54% to 38% in a West Valley district that includes GOP strongholds in Ventura County.
And Democrats prevailed in three of four state legislative races in the Burbank-Glendale area, reflecting a major push by the state Democratic Party, which poured money, volunteers and political expertise into the contests in a successful effort to shift the balance of power in Sacramento.
"The Democrats were hungry and they showed it," Peter Musurlian, district director for retiring U.S. Rep. Carlos Moorhead (R-Glendale), said Wednesday. "They went out and worked their tails off and they won."
Moorhead's 27th District was the only one in the Burbank-Glendale area in which a Republican prevailed. In the race to replace Moorhead, former Assemblyman James E. Rogan beat businessman Doug Kahn 49.85% to 43.39%
"This area was described as ground zero [in state politics], and we certainly were aware of that," said Rogan campaign consultant Jim Nygren. "We realized early on that it's a swing area. . . . It's not a conservative bastion anymore."
It was in the race to succeed conservative retiring state Sen. Newt Russell (R-Glendale) that Boland's political career screeched to a halt Tuesday. By almost a nine-point margin, the former assemblywoman lost to former federal prosecutor Adam Schiff in what analysts had expected to be one of the Valley's closest contests.
And within that state Senate district, both Assembly seats were apparently won by Democrats. An open seat in the 43rd District, which includes most of Glendale and Burbank, will likely go to teachers union representative Scott Wildman, who led businessman John Geranios 48.5% to 47.9%, with some absentee ballots still uncounted. In the 44th, GOP incumbent Bill Hoge was surprised by Democrat Jack Scott, who pulled 53.2% of the vote to Hoge's 43.6%, in an area that includes La Canada Flintridge, Pasadena and part of Glendale.
In other Valley races, Democratic legislators Tom Hayden, Sheila J. Kuehl and Wally Knox were reelected, and Democrat Tony Cardenas won an easy victory in the East Valley, becoming the Valley's first Latino state lawmaker. Democrat Bob Hertzberg won the 40th District Assembly seat in the southeast Valley. And Reps. Howard L. Berman and Henry A. Waxman were returned to Congress, both Democrats winning handily.
That means Democrats hold 11 of the 17 congressional, state Senate and state Assembly seats in an area that reaches into the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys.
Among Republicans, incumbent Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) was returned to Congress, and in the 38th Assembly District, former Assemblyman Tom McClintock easily defeated Democrat Jon Lauritzen to make his political comeback after a four-year hiatus.
McClintock said he plans to take over the crusade begun by Boland to win legislative approval of a plan that would ease the way for the San Fernando Valley to secede from the city of Los Angeles. "I would like to broaden it," McClintock said, to give "self-determination to any community that is ill-served by a dysfunctional or abusive big city."
Republican Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley) was reelected to the state Senate, where she will be joined by Assemblyman William "Pete" Knight (R-Palmdale). Newcomer George Runner Jr. was picked to succeed Knight in the 36th Assembly District, which includes portions of Palmdale, Lancaster and Santa Clarita.
Political analysts evaluating the contests Wednesday attributed the Democrats' strong showing to several factors, including strong grass-roots campaigns that mobilized traditional Democratic constituencies such as organized labor; demographic changes that created a more moderate electorate; bruising Republican primary campaigns that divided the party, and the failure of Republicans to capture the "swing votes" that put Democrats over the top.
"This wasn't a massive landslide as a result of the Clinton victory," said Darry Sragow, campaign director for the Democratic Caucus of the state Assembly. "We won each of these races one at a time. . . . We had some extraordinary candidates. They worked very hard, and they just outclassed their opponents."
The state GOP had high hopes this year because of the good showing turned in by Republicans in 1994. Then, Sybert almost unseated veteran Rep. Anthony Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills), who retired this year, and Rogan and Hoge racked up Assembly wins.