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Harman Heads to Runoff in O.C. State Senate Race

The Huntington Beach assemblyman is named GOP winner. His party rival wants a recount.

April 14, 2006|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

Assemblyman Tom Harman was declared the Republican nominee for an open Orange County state Senate seat Thursday while rival GOP candidate Diane Harkey said she would ask for a recount next week.

Harman, of Huntington Beach, defeated Harkey, a Dana Point councilwoman, by just 236 votes out of 98,344 ballots cast. He now heads to a June 6 runoff election with Democrat Larry Caballero, a La Palma teacher.

Only a recount stands in Harman's way. "We're definitely going for a recount," Harkey said after spending more than two hours monitoring the last ballots to be counted from Tuesday's election.

"We owe it to people," she said at the registrar's office in Santa Ana, where she huddled with a handful of supporters over a printout of the final tally. "It's way too close."

Harman was out of town with his wife, Diane, and couldn't be reached Thursday for comment. But his campaign spokeswoman, Jennifer Jacobs, said they knew the race would be close and concentrated on voters casting absentee ballots, which accounted for nearly 75% of the turnout.

"We battled hard for the absentees and we had a ballot statement," she said, referring to campaign materials mailed to voters that included an official statement from Harman but none from Harkey. Candidates got statements if they agreed to abide by spending limits; Harkey declined and ultimately spent more than $700,000 of her own money.

The results ended three days of nail biting for both candidates as elections officials tallied ballots for the open 35th Senate District seat, which stretches from Seal Beach to Dana Point. It was represented until December by John Campbell, who was elected to the House of Representatives. Campbell's predecessor, former Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) resigned to become chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

About 20 Harkey volunteers and eight Harman supporters joined attorneys for both campaigns Thursday to monitor the final count. All that were left to count were 650 provisional ballots cast by voters unsure whether they were registered or whether they had voted absentee.

Acting Registrar Neal Kelley set up 12 counting stations, with observers from each campaign watching as election workers verified voter signatures and information on the blue provisional ballots.

The tone was tense but quiet as volunteers held up their hands to signal when they challenged a ballot, triggering a huddle by Kelly's staff to determine whether it would be counted.

Joining the group was former state Republican Party Executive Director Jon Fleischman, who said he took a day off from his job as spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department to help Harkey. "This is a great exercise for volunteers, but it's a pretty insurmountable lead," he said at one point.

The results will be certified next week; then Harkey has five days to request a recount. The counting can be done either electronically with the same machines that scanned the first vote, or by hand. Harkey campaign manager Scott Hart said they hadn't decided which to request.

Harman's supporters said he drew together a winning coalition of Republicans, Democrats and other voters who responded to his message of opposing tax increases while supporting environmental protection. He was able to draw support from other party voters because the special election ballot listed all candidates.

Harkey came into the race a novice while serving only her second year as a councilwoman. But she quickly solidified support among the county's Republican establishment. Harman had angered local conservatives in 1998 by beating a party favorite in the primary.

Though Harkey flooded the district with more campaign mail and phone calls, Harman benefited from vastly better name recognition and an ability to appeal to Democrats with his record of pro-environment votes.

Harman got a boost in the final weeks of the campaign by at least $220,000 worth of brochures mailed from the union of state prison guards, which praised him for being strong on law-enforcement issues. Critics said the union was rewarding Harman for supporting pay and pension hikes.

Harman's campaign manager said they weren't worried about a recount.

"A recount doesn't make any difference to us because we're confident with the numbers," Jacobs said. "We were heavily outspent and had the Orange County [Republican] machine against us, but Tom prevailed."

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