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DECISION 2000 | 27TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT

Schiff Claims Victory; Rogan Doesn't Concede

Spokesman for the GOP incumbent says Democrat's declaration in the hard-fought, costly race is premature.

November 08, 2000|PATRICK MCGREEVY and JAMES RAINEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

State Sen. Adam Schiff claimed victory today in his bid to unseat Rep. James E. Rogan--a contest supercharged by a national audience and record spending.

After an early lead by the incumbent, Schiff (D-Burbank) surged ahead as midnight approached and declared the hotly contested seat his just before 1 a.m.

"We won a great victory tonight," Schiff told his cheering supporters at the Pasadena Hilton. "We won a great victory, not only for the district . . . but because the nation was watching, for the nation. We took on the best-funded campaign in the country and we beat it."

Rogan (R-Glendale) had left his campaign party earlier in the evening, after telling his supporters at the Glendale Hilton that "this is a tough race. . . . It's not only the most expensive House race, it is the toughest House race."

The Republican incumbent said he wasn't sure the race would be settled until this morning. Told of Schiff's victory declaration, Rogan's spokesman said only that the Democrat's claim was premature.

The race between the two in the 27th Congressional District took on an emotional, outsize profile in a year of presidential politics that many found banal and a blowout U.S. Senate race in California.

Rogan's central role as a House prosecutor during President Clinton's trial before the U.S. Senate--in which he declared Clinton "a monarch, subversive of, or above, the law"--made his reelection a national cause celebre and a $10.3-million-plus spend-a-thon. By election day, it was on pace to become the most expensive House race ever.

True believers of both the right and the left fervently trolled for votes until the last moment Tuesday.

The Rev. Lou Sheldon of Orange County phoned in to the district supporting Rogan's "traditional values" and attacking Schiff's agenda to "promote and advance homosexuality."

A battalion of 400 county union volunteers operated phones and walked door to door for Schiff. They were joined by Tom Short, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees, who flew in from New York, declaring that "James Rogan is owned, operated and controlled by the religious right wing of the Republican Party."

Jeanette Jones, a retired teacher and grandmother, stood at a Glendale street corner Tuesday and waved a homemade "Vote Rogan" placard.

"During the impeachment hearings, he stood up to President Clinton and for what is right," said Jones, 68. "Now we are here to fight the good fight for him."

Throughout most of the campaign, impeachment haunted the race like a powerful, unmentionable poltergeist.

The "I-word" scarcely passed Schiff's lips. But across the district, which stretches from the Los Angeles suburbs of Sunland and Tujunga to Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena and San Marino, the distant sounds of the trial echoed in the persistent bleating of partisans nationwide and the ceaseless "ka-ching" of the campaign money machines.

The two sides did not deny the absurdity of attracting so much money--particularly in a district where changing demographics had all but foreordained a shift to the Democratic camp after years as a Republican bastion. Both sides predicted that even if Schiff failed this year, redistricting would all but guarantee a Democratic victory in 2002.

Often the competing candidates used their money simply to raise still more money and then to spend it all, just because the other side did.

"It's kind of like the mutually assured destruction doctrine," Jim Wilkinson, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said just before election day. "You could erase all the money and the result might be the same."

The result: more than 140 ads a day on the air for the two candidates . . . on Armenian cable television alone. The California Republican Party broadcast television ads throughout most of Southern California, just to hit the small islands where Rogan and another incumbent were at war.

Mail carriers reported working as much as three hours overtime a day to tote the extra campaign mail. There were gems such as the pamphlet from the California Republican Party, saying Schiff had voted to make it easier for prison inmates to get "Satanic bibles."

"A new low," Schiff declared. By election day, the challenger was nearly apologetic about the volume of his own mail. "The last campaign brochure," his final mailer read. "I promise."

"It's just too much," said 80-year-old Elizabeth Grant of Pasadena. "It's just repetition, over and over and over again. They should just calm down a bit."

But though many residents of the district were heartily sick of it all, in living rooms around America, the Rogan-Schiff contest still grabbed attention.

Riveted to the Rogan results in faraway Little Rock was Asa Hutchison (R-Ark.), a Rogan friend and fellow House impeachment prosecutor.

Watching from a hotel in Toronto was actor and liberal activist Danny DeVito, searching for locations for a movie but also attuned to a race he deemed "really big stuff for all of us."

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