Most incumbent members of Congress from California won reelection Tuesday, but longtime Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino (R-Ventura) was locked in a close race with state Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara) in one of the most contested House campaigns in the country.
Regardless of the outcome of the Lagomarsino-Hart race, Democrats will hold a wide edge in the California House delegation that greets new President George Bush in January. Coming into the election, the Democrats had a 27-18 edge.
Key Contra Backer
Lagomarsino, a key Administration spokesman on aid to Nicaraguan Contras, opened up a wide lead in early results, but Hart gained as more ballots were tabulated.
Hart spent more than $1 million trying to paint the incumbent as out of touch with the central coast district. Lagomarsino spent more than $1 million arguing that the Reagan years have been good for the Santa Barbara-Ventura area.
Lagomarsino has been a popular congressman in the area for 15 years, and the seat was held by Republicans long before he won it. But the race caused some consternation to Republican leaders who feared that Hart, a former schoolteacher, might be the kind of Democrat who could bring off an upset.
“A lot of political pundits thought that there was no way I would win, but I never doubted it basically because he (Hart) does not represent the voices of the people in this district,” Lagomarsino said while celebrating his early lead at a Mexican restaurant in Ventura. “I don’t think the Hart campaign thought we’d work as hard as we did or raise as much money as we did and I think they underestimated the intelligence of the people here.”
In the San Jose-Palo Alto area, Republican Thomas J. Campbell was leading the Democratic challenger, San Mateo County Supervisor Anna Eshoo, and appeared likely to keep a longtime GOP seat in the party fold.
Campbell is a 36-year-old economist and Stanford law school professor who worked for the Reagan Administration. The district where he was winning is the last in the San Francisco Bay Area to be represented by a Republican.
Campbell took an unusual tack for a Republican--he advocated a $22-billion annual tax increase on cigarettes, alcohol and gasoline to help close the federal budget deficit.
But Campbell, a proponent of free trade economics who studied under Nobel Prize-winner Milton Friedman, argued that the tax cut had to accompany reductions in federal spending.
“Well, it was a tough one but the voters had clear judgment on the issues, principally on the budget deficit,” Campbell said Tuesday night in Menlo Park. “The differences between the candidates were clear and the campaign was on the issues.”
Two other new Republicans were elected to Congress in races where there was only token opposition. The newly elected House members are Dana Rohrabacher, who will represent parts of Los Angeles and Orange counties, and C. Christopher Cox, also of Orange County.
All of the Democrats who had appeared vulnerable were surviving Republican challenges.
Rep. George Brown Jr. (D-Colton) held the lead over his challenger, insurance agent John Paul Stark, in a race that national Republican advisers had hoped to win.
Brown is a liberal who used to represent parts of Los Angeles, left Congress to run for the U.S. Senate, and returned to the House from a district that now covers San Bernardino and parts of Riverside County.
Stark, a conservative with support from Christian activists, plastered the district with reflective signs which said only that Brown opposed the death penalty. Brown said the signs probably helped him.
“Most of my constituents thought I put those signs up,” Brown chuckled while watching returns at the Riverside County registrar of voters.
Rep. Jim Bates (D-San Diego), who was presumed early in the year to face an easy reelection challenge, was accused in recent months of sexual harassment by current and former aides. The charges gave new impetus to the Republican challenger, Rob Butterfield Jr.
But Bates won reelection, though by a much narrower margin than in his past races.
Bates was relieved by the outcome, saying the Republicans “threw everything they had at me. But people remembered I was there when they needed me. Eighteen years of serving the public--solving problems, getting the job done--that saved me.”
On the east side of Los Angeles County, Rep. Matthew G. Martinez (D-Monterey Park) also withstood a challenge, from businessman Ralph Ramirez, and probably killed any future GOP plans to go after him.
The Republicans sent money and aid into the district thinking that Martinez was vulnerable after a vicious primary campaign. “A Republican could win if he could walk on water,” Martinez said triumphantly Tuesday night.
The Lagomarsino and Hart race for the House, one of the most expensive in the country, pitted two politicians who have enjoyed success along the Santa Barbara and Ventura coast, but who appeal to different voters.
Lagomarsino is a conservative in the Reagan mold, an advocate of aid to the Nicaraguan Contras and supportive of defense spending, especially at Vandenberg Air Force Base and other installations in the district.
Hart is a liberal who campaigned against Contra aid and the Strategic Defense Initiative, or Star Wars. He charged that Lagomarsino is weak on the environment.
At times, the campaign strayed from defense and environment to side issues. Lagomarsino sent mailers saying Hart would be beholden to “West Los Angeles” interests for taking help from Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman and Howard Berman.
Hart, meanwhile, alleged that Lagomarsino was ducking debates.
The San Jose-area race between Campbell and Eshoo turned into a battle of party heavyweights sent in to do battle for loyal local talent.
Campbell, who directed a staff of 200 attorneys at the Federal Trade Commission before he was 30, benefited from appearances by GOP celebrities such as former U.N. Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick and former Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Hanford Dole.
Help for Eshoo came in the form of Sen. Bill Bradley (D-New Jersey) and Sen. Albert Gore (D-Tenn.). Eshoo has been a Democratic Party committeewoman for several years and played an active role in national conventions.
In a district where even the Republicans tend to the liberal on social issues, both candidates favor the Equal Rights Amendment and won the endorsement of the Sierra Club and other environmental groups. But they differed on defense policy and how to reduce the federal deficit.
Campbell set the race up by defeating Rep. Ernest Konnyu (R-Saratoga) in the June Republican primary. Konnyu vowed on election night last June to never support Campbell but ended up in his camp.
The two newly elected congressmen who had the easiest time of it Tuesday were Rohrabacher and Cox.
Both won hotly disputed Republican primaries in June in districts where the GOP registration is overwhelming. They were considered anointed once they got through the primary.
Rohrabacher, a former journalist and White House speech writer, will represent the 42nd District, which runs from Torrance south through Long Beach and into beach cities in Orange County. He replaces Rep. Daniel Lungren (R-Long Beach), who retired from Congress.
Cox, also a former White House aide, will go to Washington from the 40th District in the center of Orange County. He replaces Rep. Robert Badham (R-Newport Beach), who retired.
Also contributing to election coverage were Bob Baker, Lilia Beebe, Bettina Boxall, Stephen Braun, Jess Bravin, Stephanie Chavez, Steven R. Churm, Alma Cook, Jean Davidson, Virginia Ellis, Warwick J. Elston, Paul Feldman, Michele Fuetsch, Mary Lou Fulton, Jerry Gillam, James M. Gomez, Larry Gordon, Tom Gorman, Denise Hamilton, Scott Harris, John M. Hayes, Richard Holguin, Carl Ingram, Jesse Katz, Daryl Kelley, Dianne Klein, Barbara Koh, Laura Kurtzman, Eric Lichtblau, Bill Mc Elhaney, Penelope McMillan, Joseph Medo, Victor Merina, Dean Murphy, Stephanie O’Neill, Lynn O’Shaughnessy, Richard C. Paddock, Jeffrey A. Perlman, Tony Perry, Terry Pristin, George Ramos, Cecilia Rasmussen, Carla Rivera, Sebastian Rotella, Louis Sahagun, Douglas Shuit, Richard Simon, George Stein, Jill Stewart, Amy Stevens, Tracy Thomas, William Trombley, David J. Van Houten, Mike Ward, Henry Weinstein, Elaine Woo, Tracy Wood, Jenifer Warren, Gene Yasuda, Kathie Bozanich, Susan Greene, Dallas Jamison, Hector Tobar and Ginger Lynne Thompson.