With few exceptions, Tuesday's Democratic landslide in California seeped into the most hotly contested local legislative and congressional races, including the open Long Beach/Palos Verdes 54th Assembly District seat.
The district moved from the Republican column into Democrats' hands in a cliffhanger that the losing camp reluctantly conceded Wednesday. By the time the last of the regular ballots were counted early in the morning, Long Beach Councilman Alan Lowenthal had emerged with a 49.7% to 46.6% margin in defeating city prosecutor Julie Alban. Her supporters acknowledged that the uncounted absentee and other ballots probably would not change the outcome when they are tallied in the next few days.
In the overlapping 36th Congressional District, featuring one of just three open House seats in California, Democrat Janice Hahn was waiting for the final tally before conceding the race to Republican Assemblyman Steve Kuykendall of Rancho Palos Verdes. He outpolled her by 2 percentage points, about 3,200 votes, in a race that was widely watched nationwide.
Except for Kuykendall and Rep. James Rogan of Glendale, who handily held on to his 27th Congressional District post despite a strong challenge from former Screen Actors Guild President Barry Gordon, Republicans lost to Democrats in the few area seats that both major parties had targeted in their battles for control of Congress and the Legislature.
"In Los Angeles County, as everywhere, Republicans took a bath," said GOP political consultant Allan Hoffenblum. "When the Democrats have a landslide, only the very strong [Republicans] survive."
Further, Hoffenblum said, Tuesday's elections bucked the conventional wisdom that low voter turnout favors GOP candidates. Elections officials estimated that 47.59% of the county's 3.85 million registered voters cast ballots, less than the 64.95% who turned out in the 1996 presidential general election and the 58.58% who cast ballots in the 1994 gubernatorial election.
"I do think the turnout favored Democrats this time. Kuykendall and Alban both lost on election day. The absentee vote [which both candidates handily won] was probably enough to save Steve, but not Julie," said Hoffenblum, publisher of the nonpartisan California Target Book, an analysis of state legislative and congressional races.
And in the bellwether 53rd Assembly District, which runs from Venice and the South Bay beach cities through Torrance and part of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, the contest wasn't even close--Democrat George Nakano racked up a 60.6% to 39.4% margin over Republican Bill Eggers. That was a surprisingly large difference, given the efforts that both parties put into the race.
Other targeted area races were contests for the 24th Congressional District, the 32nd state Senate District (a Democratic-leaning, largely San Bernardino County district that includes a small portion of eastern Los Angeles County), and the 44th, 56th and 61st Assembly districts. The 61st Assembly District also lies largely within San Bernardino County.
In the West San Fernando Valley-based 24th Congressional District, Democratic incumbent Brad Sherman easily turned back a challenge by Republican businessman Randy Hoffman. Sherman beat Hoffman by 20 percentage points, despite Hoffman pouring nearly $900,000 of his own money into the campaign. The two candidates waged a rough, sometimes nasty campaign through the mail.
The battle over the 27th Congressional District was tighter, with Rogan, a member of House Speaker Newt Gingrich's leadership team, winning by less than 4% over Gordon. Rogan nabbed 50.3% of the vote, compared to 46.8% for Gordon.
In the Pasadena-anchored 44th Assembly District, first-term Democratic incumbent Jack Scott so easily beat Republican businessman Ken LaCorte that a Scott supporter joked that it was like a college football powerhouse running up the score against a minor school. "It was an overwhelming vote of confidence for my work and agenda," Scott said of his 57%-40% edge.
The race was also a mini-referendum for many on gun control in the once Republican district. Scott, whose son died in an accidental shooting, is an outspoken advocate of tighter restrictions on guns.
Another targeted contest expected to be close also turned into a rout as Assemblywoman Sally Havice (D-Cerritos) defeated Republican Phil Hawkins for her second term, 53.2% to 44.1%. Havice had a lot of help from labor unions in her fight against Hawkins, who was trying to win back the seat he held for one term before making a failed bid for the state Senate in 1996.
The Havice campaign believes that Hawkins' attacks--which included campaign mailers showing Havice with a grotesque Pinocchio-like nose--backfired, swinging moderate and undecided voters her way.