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Polanco’s Narrow Victory May Prompt Tactical Shift

Times Staff Writer

Legislative aide Richard Polanco won a special Eastside Assembly election primary by receiving twice as many absentee votes as rival Mike Hernandez, but he lost to Hernandez at the polls by more than 700 votes--a fact that caused Polanco strategists Wednesday to reconsider the hard-hitting campaign tactics that they concede may have backfired.

Polanco won 39% of the vote, compared to Hernandez’s 37%, in the special election to fill the unexpired term of Richard Alatorre, who left the 55th District Assembly seat for one on the Los Angeles City Council. Under the state Election Code, if no candidate receives a majority of the votes in a special election, the top vote-getters from each political party go to a runoff.

Polanco thus faces Republican Loren Lutz and two small-party candidates in a June 3 runoff. The winner will fill Alatorre’s unexpired term that runs until Dec. 1.

But Polanco still faces a hotly contested race in the June Democratic primary election for the regular Assembly two-year term, meaning that he will appear on the ballot twice, once as the runoff candidate for Alatorre’s unexpired term and once as a candidate for the next full two-year term.

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Hernandez declared Tuesday night that he will run again in the June 3 Democratic primary election. If he or another candidate beats Polanco in that race, Polanco could wind up winning one election but losing another--on the same ballot.

Hernandez’s surprisingly strong showing against Polanco, who is backed by Alatorre and major Democratic powers, including the chief aide to Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), farm workers’ leader Cesar Chavez and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, caused some Polanco strategists Wednesday to rethink the Polanco campaign tactic of attacking Hernandez’s background as a bail bondsman.

“We’re going to regroup,” said Polanco campaign chairman George Pla. Saying that he had received some complaints from voters who did not like Polanco mailers that repeatedly accused Hernandez of “making money” by letting criminals such as child molesters and rapists “out on the streets,” Pla said Wednesday, “I think it’s time to talk issues.” For the June election, he said, “it’ll be a totally different campaign.”

Pla would not say that the mail campaign designed by Richard Ross, chief of staff to Speaker Brown, was a mistake. It “has not been determined” whether Ross will continue to work on the Polanco campaign, Pla added.

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“It’s just a question of strategy,” he said. “In special elections it’s a more conservative vote, therefore an emphasis on bail bonds and police. In a regular election there’s more latitude to discuss the issues.”

Other sources close to the Polanco campaign said there was conflict among supporters who thought that Polanco’s attack campaign would cost him in the Eastside district that already has seen other similarly bitter campaigns in recent years.

“People in the district are more sophisticated than some may think,” one said. “They’re tired of that negative junk and they see through it.”

Polanco’s absentee ballot campaign, run by the Winner, Taylor & Associates firm that conducted similarly successful campaigns for Alatorre and former Eastside Councilman Arthur K. Snyder, made a major push to encourage voters to cast absentee ballots early, Pla said. Thus many ballots were already cast before the so-called “attack” mail hit that may have pushed more voters toward Hernandez.

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Times staff writers Victor Merina and Rich Connell contributed to this story.


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