In contests sure to rattle an already queasy crop of Capitol Hill incumbents, veteran Illinois Sen. Alan J. Dixon was upset in the Democratic primary Tuesday while a controversial Chicago-area congressman also lost and another appeared headed for defeat.
With 93% of the vote counted in the Senate race, Cook County official Carol Moseley Braun was leading Dixon, 38% to 35%. A third candidate, lawyer Albert Hofeld, had 27%
Braun ran a shoestring insurgent campaign--her campaign war chest totaled only about $300,000.
One element in the contest was the controversy over Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Braun roundly criticized Dixon for voting to confirm Thomas last fall despite allegations of sexual harassment lodged against him by former associate Anita Faye Hill.
Both Dixon, the Democratic chief deputy whip, and Hofeld conceded defeat late Tuesday night. The 45-year-old Braun, in claiming victory, told a cheering swarm of supporters: "You are history makers."
It is believed Braun is the first black woman nominated by a major party for the Senate. If she were to win the general election in November, she would be the Senate's sole African-American member and the first black woman to serve in that body.
Among closely watched congressional races, Chicago Democrat Gus Savage, widely known for his anti-Israel and anti-Jewish comments, was soundly defeated.
Another Chicago Democrat, Rep. Charles A. Hayes, trailed his opponent with most of the vote counted. Hayes, meanwhile, was named last week as one of the worst offenders in the congressional check-bouncing scandal.
Savage, who long been the target of criticism for alleged womanizing, inattention to his job and blatant anti-Semitic remarks, was trounced by former college professor Mel Reynolds. With more than two-thirds of the vote counted in the district, Reynolds led Savage, 69% to 31%. Both candidates are black.
Savage recently launched harsh attacks against Reynolds, whom he accused of being a tool of Jewish interests. In a bizarre twist, Reynolds was slightly wounded by flying glass when someone shot out the window of his campaign vehicle last week.
Hayes was losing to challenger Bobby Rush, a Chicago city councilman who once was a prominent member of the militant Black Panther party. With 73% of the vote counted in the district, Rush had 42%, Hayes 39%.
In other Illinois primaries, Democratic Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, easily brushed back a primary challenge in his Chicago district. Republican Rep. Phillip M. Crane, stung by an opponent's charges of widespread junketing and frequent absences from House roll calls, also appeared headed to victory in his heavily Republican district in the Chicago suburbs.
The big primary election shocker clearly was Dixon's loss to Braun, the Cook County recorder of deeds. Braun's Republican opponent in November will be political newcomer Rich Williamson, who ran unopposed in his party's primary.
Braun's last-minute surge from a distant second in the polls only a few weeks ago likely will send an unnerving message to officeholders wary of a growing "throw-the-bums-out" fervor among voters--a sentiment that has been amplified by the House's check-bouncing scandal.
Braun's showing could also jolt a cadre of top political whiz kids who preached a mantra that the keys to electoral success lay with huge dollops of money and media, neither of which Braun enjoyed.
Dixon, 64, whose penchant for old-fashioned political glad-handing and backslapping earned him the nickname "Al the Pal," liked to brag that he had never lost a contest since being elected as a police magistrate in his Southern Illinois community of Belleville back in 1949. Elected to a wide variety of local, state and federal offices over the years, he virtually always won by comfortable margins.
But this time around, Braun attacked Dixon for his wheeler-dealer image as well as a voting record that she characterized as too accommodating to the political agendas of the Ronald Reagan and Bush administrations.
She also capitalized on widespread feminist anger over Dixon's vote last year in favor of Thomas. One apparent sign of that was the wide majority of the vote she garnered among white suburban women.
Another key to Braun's victory was a larger-than-expected turnout in Chicago's black neighborhoods. More than 50% of eligible voters cast ballots in those areas, and they overwhelmingly supported her.
Democrat Sen. Paul Simon, who strongly supported Dixon, blamed his colleague's poor showing in part on fallout from the Thomas-Hill controversy. But Simon, who himself opposed Thomas, acknowledged in an interview on CNN that there was more to Dixon's downfall than that.
"Part of it is this anti-incumbent thing," Simon said, discussing the mood of voters. "They just blame everybody."
Dixon was first elected to the Senate in 1980 and easily reelected in 1986. Braun, in her improbable campaign to unseat him, was so cash-strapped that she did not run a single television ad until last weekend.
Much of her campaign was spent the old-fashioned way, going door-to-door and to community meeting after community meeting. She also basked in a few high-profile endorsements from feminist notables, including Gloria Steinem and actress Marlo Thomas.
By contrast, Dixon and Hofeld, the race's third candidate, saturated the airwaves with commercials for months. Hofeld, a personal injury lawyer with no previous political experience, spent more than $4 million of his own money but nevertheless appeared headed for a last-place finish.
"The people chose substance over sound bites in this election," a jubilant Braun declared Tuesday night.
She also told her supporters: "We are the future. I scarcely know what to say. That's unusual. To my family, to all of you, to people who had faith in what we stood for . . . when they said it could not be done, you said, 'Oh yes it can.' You went all over the state to show that democracy is alive and well and you can win a race with no money."
Dixon urged his supporters to work for Braun, calling her an "honorable, decent candidate."
Braun served in the Illinois House of Representatives for 10 years until leaving to run for her present post. Though known as a reformer, she has demonstrated an adroit political savvy in the job that enabled her to build bridges to both liberals and Democrat machine politicians.
Erin Kern, a spokesperson for Dixon, said the incumbent's campaign suffered largely because the Senate debate on a recently passed Democratic tax cut plan required him to spend more time in Washington and less back in Illinois campaigning. "Our opponents said we were hiding but our voters know that he was cutting the middle-class tax," Kern insisted.
Times staff writers Eric Harrison and Tracy Shryer contributed to this story.