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SPECIAL REPORT / Decision 2000 / AMERICA WAITS

Schiff Savors Victory but Faces Yet Another Challenge

Influential state senator prepares to move to rookie post with the minority party in Congress. Rogan, meanwhile, remains a hero to many Republicans despite sound defeat.

November 09, 2000|JAMES RAINEY and RICHARD WINTON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

State Sen. Adam Schiff awoke to a new greeting from his father Wednesday morning--"Hello, Mr. Congressman!"--after winning what may prove to be the most expensive congressional election in history.

Adulation surrounded Schiff after he soundly defeated conservative representative and House impeachment manager James E. Rogan, 52.8% to 43.8%. Schiff delighted supporters by dispatching one of President Clinton's tormentors but, more importantly, by presenting a moderate alternative in the increasingly Democratic and diverse district in the Glendale-Pasadena area.

Schiff (D-Burbank) probably will find, however, that the afterglow of victory in the 27th Congressional District quickly gives way to a tough political reckoning. The 40-year-old legislator will graduate from the cozy confines of Democrat-dominated Sacramento and a plum committee chairmanship to rookie status in the House of Representatives and a national Capitol that could hardly be more sharply divided.

For Rogan, in contrast, the hard part may be over. His anti-abortion, anti-Clinton, gun control-doubting agenda has been repudiated in the swath of northeast Los Angeles County that he represented for four years. In California, his political future is cloudy.

But Rogan, 43, remains a hero across the country to legions of Republican true believers, who spent more than $6.3 million to try to keep him in office. He is rumored as a possible appointee in the federal judiciary or Justice Department of a President George W. Bush. A new career as a television talking head is not unreasonable for the glib, irreverent onetime X-rated theater bouncer, several pundits suggested.

"Stranger people have made it to talk radio fame. One thinks of G. Gordon Liddy. It's the place for a failed politician," said Alan Heslop, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and former executive director of the state Republican Party.

Schiff arrived at breakfast with his family Wednesday morning at the Pasadena hotel where he spent election night, declaring that he was thrilled to represent the district that stretches along the foothills from Sunland and Tujunga to Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena.

Polling two days before the election had hinted that Schiff's win would be much more comfortable than previously predicted, said his campaign consultant Parke Skelton. The margin exceeded even the Democratic Party's 7% registration advantage because of significant support from independents and Republicans, Skelton said. Armenian Americans also voted solidly for Schiff, he added.

Final campaign spending reports are yet to be filed, but the $10.3 million collected by the two candidates beat previous House records and was likely to remain ahead of other exorbitant races this fall. At least $2.2 million more was spent for Schiff and Rogan by political parties and independent organizations.

"From the very beginning, people all over this country focused in on this race," Schiff said. "In the beginning, I think they looked at it because of the impeachment overtones. But I think they continued watching it because it said something about the national direction. . . . I really think this country is ready for elected officials that can work across party lines, that can work civilly with each other and keep the focus on the issues."

Schiff had been making such calls for bipartisanship for months. Now, the preciously thin division of power in the House and U.S. Senate makes the need for bipartisanship "more true than [in] my wildest imagination," he said. "It's hard to conceive a more divided government than what we are going to have."

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) was only half joking Wednesday when he described his new colleague's upcoming transition. "He is going to go from being in the majority of a body where you have only 40 members and you can get things done to joining us in the minority and being one of 435," Sherman said.

"We convinced Adam this change was worth a year of his life," Sherman added. "It's going to be fascinating and frustrating."

But Schiff said he thinks the pressure will be intense to make progress reforming campaign finance laws, overhauling HMO regulations and imposing more controls on gun show sales. "I think there will be a major reshuffling of the deck by voters if Congress doesn't act," he said.

Rogan's campaign party had closed down before results were final Tuesday night. The congressman called Schiff just after 9 a.m. Wednesday to concede defeat. Later, he met with reporters in the 19th floor bar of the Glendale Hilton, overlooking much of the 27th District.

He depicted his defeat as a loss for principle, saying he took on the role of prosecutor of Clinton knowing his political career hung in the balance.

"In a district that is a fairly substantial Democratic district," he said, "voting to impeach the president would be significantly unhealthy for my political longevity."

He added: "I felt it was the right thing to do."

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