Open seats and brisk primary challenges to some incumbent officeholders made for a handful of lively contests for congressional and legislative seats Tuesday, including the Democratic primary in a race to succeed former Assembly Speaker Karen Bass.
In that race, Holly Mitchell, head of a child care advocacy group, with most of the vote counted Wednesday morning narrowly defeated Reginald Jones-Sawyer, an asset manager for the city of L.A., in a crowded race.
Bass, termed out of the Assembly and running to succeed Rep. Diane Watson (D- Los Angeles) in one of only two open congressional seats in California this year, trounced political newcomer Felton Newell, a deputy Los Angeles city attorney, and two other Democrats.
"I'm just very excited," Bass said in a telephone interview from her election night party. "I have been really honored to have had the support of the congresswoman and so many of the community leaders and members. We had hundreds of volunteers and a positive campaign that brought together every ethnic group, every neighborhood and every demographic group."
In a hard-fought Republican primary in the Central Valley to replace Rep. George Radanovich (R-Mariposa), his choice to succeed him, state Sen. Jeff Denham of Atwater, defeated former Fresno Mayor Jim Patterson, former Rep. Richard Pombo and Fresno Councilman Larry Westerlund with most of the ballots counted.
Rep. Gary Miller (R-Diamond Bar) fended off three GOP challengers: accounting firm owner Phil Liberatore, business owner Lee McGroarty and sales representative David Su.
On the Democratic side, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) turned back an energetic primary challenge from teacher/peace activist Marcy Winograd.
Among the most crowded, fiercely fought Democratic primaries was the eight-way Assembly race in a Venice/South Bay district. There, Betsy Butler, a former fundraiser for nonprofit groups, defeated leading environmental educator James Lau, Manhattan Beach Mayor Mitch Ward, prosecutor Nick Karno, attorney Kate Anderson and three others.
No Democrat filed to run against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- San Francisco) in the primary. She will face a Republican and two third-party candidates in the fall.
In the elections for the state's open congressional seats, the battle to succeed Radanovich in the Central Valley's 19th Congressional District was the fiercer of the two. Pombo, ousted in 2006 from a neighboring congressional seat, was attempting a political comeback against three other GOP contenders in this strongly Republican district. Attorney Loraine Goodwin won the Democratic nomination.
By contrast, the election to replace Watson — who spent four decades in public office — was lopsided from the start. She quickly endorsed Bass, and much of the area's political and civic leadership soon followed suit. Newell, who got into the race more than a year ago, campaigned hard but could not get much traction against Bass.
Her days as a community organizer and her status as a former Assembly leader helped give her a visibility that Newell, making his first run for public office, could not match. In November, Bass will face the top finisher among the three Republicans on the ballot.
The overwhelmingly Democratic 33rd Congressional District, one of the most ethnically and economically diverse in the nation, stretches from parts of South Los Angeles, Culver City and Ladera Heights into Hancock Park, Hollywood and Silver Lake.
In the Venice/South Bay's 36th Congressional District, Winograd made her second unsuccessful but spirited challenge to Harman — she also ran against her in 2006 and won nearly 38% of the vote. Harman fought back with an aggressive campaign of political mail, phone calls to voters and personal appearances. Libertarian Herb Peters will appear on the November ballot, as will the top vote-getter among the three Republicans on Tuesday.
Substantive primary challenges to a sitting member of Congress are relatively rare, but Miller drew three competitors for the GOP nomination in the 42nd Congressional District, which covers parts of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties. Democrat Michael Williamson and Libertarian Mark Lambert, unopposed in their respective primaries, are ensured spots on the November ballot.
Among several hotly contested legislative races was the eight-way battle among Democrats for the open 53rd Assembly District in Venice/South Bay. A coalition of tort-reformers, oil companies, insurance firms and other business interests spent more than $600,000 in an independent campaign to defeat Butler, a former fundraiser for two environmental groups as well as a statewide association of consumer, or trial, attorneys.