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Moving Targets

Both parties think they have a shot at four Assembly districts and three congressional districts in L.A. County. But as political fortunes change, so can strategists' aims.


As any good political consultant knows, the battles for partisan control of the Legislature and Congress are won or lost in the suburbs and rural areas, not in the cores of densely populated cities. And a look at the hottest races in the area shows that Los Angeles County is no exception.

The handful of Nov. 3 races "targeted" by both major political parties--for four seats in the state Assembly and three in the House of Representatives--involve districts well outside Los Angeles' urban center.

Target districts are those that both major parties believe they have a good chance of winning, and both therefore are pouring in maximum allotments of resources, from money to political advice to help with organizing and fund-raising.

In Los Angeles County, the target contests are in the 44th, 53rd, 54th and 56th Assembly districts and the 24th, 27th and 36th congressional districts. That lineup may be fluid, as strategists in both parties well know.

Earlier this election season, for example, the Burbank-Glendale area's 43rd Assembly District seemed like a sure bet for a showdown between the first-term Democratic incumbent, teachers union organizer Scott Wildman, and the Republican candidate, veteran Los Angeles Police Department Officer Peter Repovich.

After all, Wildman had won the former Republican stronghold by fewer than 200 votes in 1996. But over the summer the Repovich campaign developed several problems, including the disclosure that the candidate had been suspended without pay in 1997 for sexually harassing a female police officer. Republican leaders backed away from the race, and are expected by many to shift their campaign resources into the neighboring 44th District.

By contrast, the east San Gabriel Valley's 60th District, once a Republican stronghold but now gaining Democratic-voting Latinos, is of growing interest to both parties and may wind up on the target list before election day. The seat is being vacated by Republican Assemblyman Gary Miller, who is running for Congress; the main competitors are Walnut City Councilman Robert Pacheco for the Republicans and West Covina City Councilman Ben Wong for the Democrats.

Strategists prefer to keep details of their targeting decisions as close to the vest as possible, and they always like to stay flexible.

"We are expecting late sneak attacks by both parties," said political consultant Allan Hoffenblum. Hoffenblum publishes the California Target Book, which provides detailed analyses of California legislative and congressional races.


Democrats have a special challenge this fall in attempting to blunt the potential fallout from the Bill Clinton sex scandal. If the president's dalliance with intern Monica Lewinsky prompts some Democratic voters to stay home on election day, it is their candidates in the hard-fought swing districts who will pay the heaviest price.

"The wild card in all these races is a [possible] decline in the Democratic turnout," said Claremont McKenna College government professor Alan Heslop. A vote falloff of 4% or 5% by Democrats is all it would take in some of these districts to give the victory to the Republican, Heslop said.

But Democrats can expect a boost from a recently resurgent labor movement. The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, is running a massive get-out-the vote effort focusing on new voters and those who have not been diligent about getting to the polls.

Locally, the outcomes of state Senate races were virtually determined in the primaries, and there are no targeted contests.


Times staff writer Douglas P. Shuit and correspondent Richard Winton contributed to this story.

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