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VOTERS' CAMPAIGN 2000 GUIDE | Los Angeles County /
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With No Incumbents, Some Tough Fights Emerge

March 05, 2000|JEAN MERL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A handful of local state Senate seats without incumbents have touched off several hot contests in Tuesday's primaries.

In two of them, winning the Democratic nomination is tantamount to victory in November, and both campaigns have turned into political survival struggles between seasoned Assembly members.

In the race for the 23rd District, where the state's term-limits law is forcing Westside Democratic Sen. Tom Hayden into retirement, Assemblyman Wally Knox of Los Angeles and Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl of Santa Monica are competing in one of the nation's strongest bastions of wealthy, liberal and active voters.

Also on the ballot are Republican Daniel B. Rego and Libertarian Charles T. Black.

The district, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 52% to 28%, includes Santa Monica, Malibu, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and parts of the southern San Fernando Valley.

Another sure shot for Democrats is the 25th Senate District, where Assemblyman Edward Vincent of Inglewood and Assemblyman Dick Floyd, who currently represents the Wilmington area, are battling to succeed Teresa P. Hughes, one of the region's most enduring African American politicians. Republican Cliff McClain is the only other candidate.

Democrats outnumber Republicans 71% to 13% in the largely blue-collar and minority district, which stretches from Inglewood and Lawndale east through Gardena, Lynwood and Paramount.

Three other seats have sparked competitive primaries, but instead of the races being virtually settled Tuesday, the districts could become battlegrounds between the major parties in November.

The decision by state Sen. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) of the 21st District to challenge Rep. James E. Rogan (R-Glendale) in the fall has touched off a pitched battle to succeed Schiff between Assemblymen Scott Wildman (D-Los Angeles) and Jack Scott (D-Altadena), who each represent half of the Senate district, which extends from the eastern San Fernando Valley to Pasadena.

Democrats have only a slight registration edge (39%-36%) in this onetime GOP stronghold. Competing for the GOP nomination are South Pasadena City Councilman Paul Zee and retired engineer Dave Wallis, who has run twice in Assembly primaries. Bob New is running as a Libertarian.

In the easternmost reaches of the county, the 29th District race to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Richard Mountjoy of Arcadia has produced a two-way Democratic primary between West Covina City Councilmen Steve Herfert and Richard Melendez.

Alone on the Republican ballot is Assemblyman Bob Margett of Arcadia. He is favored to succeed Mountjoy in the GOP-leaning district, but with registration now evenly divided and Latino voters increasing, the district is no longer a shoo-in for Republicans. Libertarian Leland Thomas Faegre also is running.

A somewhat safer bet for the GOP is the 19th District seat being vacated by termed-out Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley). Conservative Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Northridge) is competing for his party's nomination with Ventura County Supervisor Judy Mikels, a moderate. The winner will face Democratic attorney and businessman Daniel R. Gonzalez in the fall in the Oxnard-to Northridge district, where Republicans still have a small edge in registration, 42%-39%.

Former state Sen. Joe Baca's recent election to replace the late Rep. George Brown Jr. of San Bernardino has prompted a special election in the 32nd District, which straddles Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. Democratic Assemblywoman and former Pomona Councilwoman Nell Soto just missed winning the seat outright in the first round of balloting in January, garnering 48% of the vote. She faces Republican Rob Guzman on Tuesday. Registration is 52% Democratic to 32% Republican.

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