Republican Bruce Herschensohn's final surrender in the U.S. Senate race came in the early morning Wednesday, when he phoned opponent Barbara Boxer and congratulated her on her win. By 2 a.m., late returns from heavily Democratic San Francisco had come in, and by then the man who was the Republicans' last chance to win one of California's two Senate seats was knocked out of the game.
Hours earlier, on Tuesday night, the other Republican candidate, John Seymour, gave his concession speech in a huge ballroom at the Century Plaza. Seymour lost to Democrat Dianne Feinstein by 55% to 38%, a much bigger margin than the 48%-43% edge in the Boxer-Herschensohn race.
On Wednesday, Herschensohn, after being up much of the night, seemed bitterly disappointed by the results that led to his phone call to Boxer, a member of Congress who now will take the seat of retiring Democratic incumbent Sen. Alan Cranston.
Relating the brief phone conversation to the crowd of journalists, who were scribbling notes or crouched behind television cameras or working the dials on sound equipment, Herschensohn said he told her, "Congratulations. You've won and I lost. I hope you do what's best for the nation."
Wearing his emotions on his sleeve, Herschensohn at times choked up. "I wanted to be the U.S. senator from California very much . . . I am terribly disappointed," he said.
But Herschensohn still had enough kick left to give one of his trademark lectures about foreign policy, the economy, and what he saw as the journalists' seeming lack of concern about matters of import.
"They are stealing," Herschensohn said, his voice taking on an edge as he spoke of the federal lawmakers who he said keep passing deficit budgets and putting the bills on future generations of Americans. Staring into the bank of television cameras, he continued, "They are either stealing from one taxpayer to pay another taxpayer, or worse yet they are stealing from the next generation. I do not understand why we don't have a conscience about that, and we don't. The next question won't even be about what I'm saying, and I know it won't be, because no one cares."
Herschensohn was right. The next question was what he thought the deciding issue or issues were in his race. He said he really didn't know.
Herschensohn, who was a KABC radio and television commentator before entering the Senate race, said he had no immediate plans for the future. A onetime aide to Richard Nixon, long active in conservative Republican politics, he said it was time to let another candidate run. This was Herschensohn's second attempt to win a job in the nation's highest legislative body. He also ran in 1986, losing in the Republican primary that year.
Herschensohn said he does not plan any philosophical introspection over the defeat, nor does he believe other conservatives should back off despite some heavy Republican losses. The failed GOP candidate, who Boxer repeatedly said was so conservative that he was out of touch with voters, said it was "outrageous" to even consider moderating ones views to win elections. "Either you believe in a philosophy or you don't believe in a philosophy," he said, calling conservative views grounded in the U.S. Constitution "timeless."
Herschensohn refused to blame specific issues for his defeat on Tuesday.
"I lost because I wasn't a good enough candidate. . . . It had nothing to do with President Bush," he said.
But Ken Khachigian, Herschensohn's campaign manager, said the Republican got caught up in a "tidal wave" of anti-George Bush sentiment among voters. "I think we got buried by the tidal wave," he said.
Khachigian also said he did not think Herschensohn was hurt decisively by publicity generated by Democrats about visits the Republican made to a Hollywood strip joint and a newsstand featuring adult magazines. "If the margin of victory had been 1% or 1.5%, you might have been able to say it was a factor," he said.
Khachigian, a veteran of numerous statewide races, said voters "are nervous, scared, frustrated, and apprehensive about their future. Even a Boxer--who is no change at all, she doesn't represent any change, she represents everything that was already there--and yet the voters determined the party represented change."
Khachigian said that internal polls for Herschensohn showed the Republican had moved to within 1% or 2% of Boxer before the final presidential debate between Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot. But after the last debate Oct. 19, Khachigian said, "We took an immediate hit, dropping by like 8 points in one night. I just think people saw that the President was not coming up with anything to change the course of the country. At the same time the Democrats were running a very effective commercial, a generic commercial, about change. They were pouring money into it, and it was effective."
Khachigian said the impact of issues such as abortion rights for women, which Herschensohn opposes, and offshore oil drilling, which he favors, had relatively little impact on the voting.
He noted that Herschensohn ran stronger than Seymour even though Seymour favors abortion rights and opposes offshore oil drilling.
Seymour, though he was defeated by a much wider margin, seemed to take the defeat easier than Herschensohn. He has held Wilson's seat since early 1991, when the governor gave him a temporary appointment. But despite his incumbency, Seymour had trailed Feinstein in public opinion polls from the start of the campaign last winter. The television networks declared Feinstein a winner as soon as the polls closed at 8 p.m., and as the returns mounted, the outcome was never in doubt.
Seymour gave his concession speech in a huge ballroom at the Century Plaza at 11:15 p.m. Tuesday, just moments after a crowd at the hotel watched Feinstein give her victory statement on television, live from San Francisco.
Seymour walked onto the ballroom stage with about two dozen family members. "It was a fair campaign. I have no remorse. I have no regrets. We worked as hard as we could," he said.
On Wednesday, he flew back to Washington to pack his personal effects and close his office.