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Schiff Breaks GOP Hold on 21st District

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A few months ago, Assemblywoman Paula Boland was on the front page every day fighting for her Valley secession bill. A headline about her opponent dubbed him “Candidate What’s His Name.”

Now Democrat Adam Schiff has a name and a title--state senator from the 21st District--and is the first Democrat in many years to represent the Glendale-Burbank area.

The former federal prosecutor beat Boland handily, racking up 52% to her 43.8% in a race heavily funded by both political parties. Both campaigns spent more than $1 million.

Boland ran for the Senate on unfamiliar terrain after term limits caught up with her in the Assembly. But the Granada Hills Republican was unable to parlay either her name recognition or legislative record into higher office in a new district.

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“The numbers as they stand are certainly disappointing, but the entire state, including our district, was affected by presidential coattails,” Boland said Wednesday.

Schiff’s victory over Boland, who until a month ago was favored to win, came about through a melding of sophisticated political strategy and old-fashioned door-to-door campaigning.

The Democrats also registered 8,000 new voters in the district, which, although long a GOP bastion, has been changing its demographic stripes of late. A massive get-out-the-vote campaign delivered Schiff’s votes on Tuesday.

As a high-achieving graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School, Schiff was accustomed to success in most endeavors. But winning political office proved more elusive.

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He said he prevailed in this, his fourth try for office, partly because of his conviction that voters want action in Sacramento, not politics.

“People really want a new cadre of people in Sacramento who are focused on getting results and not focused on partisan bickering,” Schiff said Wednesday.

And while most political pundits said he was doomed by Boland’s center-stage role on secession, Schiff insisted otherwise.

Schiff said voters in the 21st state Senate district, which includes several independent cities, would not be interested in or impressed with a battle to help the Valley secede from Los Angeles.

Still, it was a difficult period.

“It certainly was a time you had to dig into your gut and keep on pushing,” Schiff said.

And so while Boland walked the corridors of the state Capitol trailed by reporters, he walked precincts. While she hobnobbed with GOP bigwigs at the convention in San Diego, he raised money.

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And while Boland wooed big-name players in Sacramento, Schiff won over Burbank police officers, Pasadena school board members and, ultimately, swing voters.

Schiff consultant Parke Skelton said he identified these voters in August and “loved them to death,” even sending out coffee mugs bearing Schiff’s name.

Skelton had help from a disjointed, highly negative campaign from Boland that had even her own advisors in despair.

“We had the better candidate, they had the better campaign,” said Boland staffer Scott Wilk. “We never told the Paula Boland story.”

Boland’s campaign further disintegrated in the last month when she fired her Sacramento consultant after he made light of a controversial mailer that incensed law enforcement groups.

The mailer said Schiff’s law enforcement endorsements were from “phony . . . radical government unions.”

Thus, at a critical juncture in the campaign, the Boland camp was forced to spend days mollifying its own law enforcement supporters to keep them from deserting her.

The Boland campaign message was also ill-suited to the moderate district, experts say.

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Painting Boland as stridently conservative on hot-button issues appealed to voters who already were inclined to back her, while appealing to few others.

One observer said the Boland campaign was run “like it was an Orange County GOP primary, not for the moderate district it is.”

Skelton agreed, saying campaign polls showed that voters who received Boland’s attack mailers were more likely to vote against her by a 2-1 ratio.

“It really did more to consolidate our base than anything we did,” he said. “The tenor of Boland’s campaign was all wrong for a swing district,” Skelton added.

On Wednesday, Schiff talked about his victory. “We expected that she would have an early lead in the absentee ballots, which tend to go to the conservative candidate,” he said. “But we rapidly cut into that lead. We knew we would overtake her.”

The key to the race, he said, was not so much his campaign tactics but hers. Schiff said Boland’s “negative campaign tactics” backfired on her because they turned voters against her instead of against her opponent.

“We were very grateful that the voters rejected the negative personal attacks that my opponent made,” he said.

Schiff acknowledges issuing his own critical mailers.

“We certainly wanted to fight back, but we wanted to fight back with issues,” Schiff said.

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Once he settles in in Sacramento, Schiff said he plans to focus on reforming the juvenile justice system and improving the state’s public education system.

One of Schiff’s biggest boosters was Senate President Pro Tem Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward), who clashed repeatedly with Boland over the secession bill last summer.

Lockyer vowed to thwart her bid for office and chortled appreciatively some weeks back at the unveiling of a Schiff television ad that portrayed Boland as a carpetbagger packing her extreme views to bring them to the new district.

On Wednesday, Lockyer refused to gloat about his role in Boland’s defeat, saying it was Schiff’s superior qualifications and message that prevailed.

“As a general matter, this reflects a course correction by voters,” Lockyer said. “Candidates who were part of a radical-right agenda got clobbered.”


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