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Winners avoid runoffs in two special elections for California Senate

Republican Sharon Runner of Lancaster and Democrat Ted Lieu of Torrance are the first winners under a new balloting system.

February 16, 2011|By Jean Merl | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
  • Democrat Ted Lieu, left, of Torrance and Republican Sharon Runner of Lancaster. The two won special elections Tuesday for California Senate.
Democrat Ted Lieu, left, of Torrance and Republican Sharon Runner of Lancaster.… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

Republican Sharon Runner of Lancaster and Democrat Ted Lieu of Torrance handily won two widely watched special elections Tuesday, avoiding the need for April 19 runoffs.

The elections were the first to be held under the state's new balloting system, in which voters choose among all candidates in a primary and the top two vote-getters, not the top finisher from each party as previously, compete in a runoff. Because these were special primaries and both candidates won majorities, there will be no runoffs.

In the South Bay's 28th Senate District, where the death of Long Beach Democrat Jenny Oropeza created a vacancy, Lieu, 41, a former assemblyman, jumped into the race even before a special election could be called. He quickly lined up enough backing to discourage other prominent Democrats from running.

Still, with seven other candidates on the ballot, he had to work hard to win a majority Tuesday. He flooded voters' mailboxes and touted backing from Democratic and local political leaders. Gov Jerry Brown campaigned for him last week. Unofficial election night returns gave Lieu 57% of the vote.

"My first priority will be getting to work on California's state budget," Lieu said near the end of the ballot counting late Tuesday. "No task is more pressing."

Lieu's closest competitor was Manhattan Beach attorney Robert Valentine, a Republican who won 25% of the vote. He was the only candidate besides Lieu to spend significant money on the race, according to campaign finance documents on file with the state. The other candidates' share of the balloting ranged from 0.5% to slightly less than 7%.

The other Republicans in the race were Long Beach educator Martha Flores-Gibson, Lomita attorney and affordable-housing provider James P. Thompson and retired U.S. Customs officer Jeffrey E. Fortini of Hawthorne.

The only other Democrat was public defender Kevin Thomas McGurk of Venice, and two candidates were listed as having no party preference -- nonprofit organization consultant Michael Chamness of Venice and publisher/community activist Mark Lipman of Los Angeles.

In the 17th Senate District, Runner, 56, a former Assembly member from Lancaster, was heavily favored from the start to defeat her only opponent, Democrat Darren W. Parker, 51, also of Lancaster. The district consistently votes Republican, and Runner is half of a popular political couple: The seat opened after her husband, George, was elected to the State Board of Equalization.

Parker -- a retired communications worker, union official and head of the Antelope Valley Human Relations Commission -- campaigned hard. He had help from the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and endorsements from Democratic officeholders. But he could not muster the money and other resources needed to turn out sufficient voters in the sprawling district, which spans parts of Ventura, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties and a sliver of Kern County.

Leading by more than a 2-1 margin, Runner declared victory with less than one-fifth of the ballots counted and promised to work to cut spending and regulations she said were stifling business and jobs.

"The people of the 17th Senate District have spoken loud and clear," Runner said. "They want lower taxes, lower spending and someone who will look out for their rights and freedoms."

Runner said she expects to be sworn in Friday.

jean.merl@latimes.com

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