Still in a joyful daze over Loretta Sanchez’s possible upset of Rep. Robert K. Dornan, Orange County Democrats on Wednesday were focusing their hopes on the race for the 69th Assembly District seat, where absentee ballots show Democrat Lou Correa closing on incumbent Jim Morrissey.
Correa, who had been more than 1,400 votes behind before absentee ballots were counted, pulled within 308 votes of Morrissey on Tuesday night. But on Wednesday, as the absentee ballot count continued, the gap widened slightly to 340 votes.
Correa had 23,839, or 47.5% of the vote, to Morrissey’s 24,179, or 48.2%. Several thousand provisional absentee ballots remain to be counted, and the registrar of voters office is expected to complete a final tally Nov. 26.
In spite of the slight increase in Morrissey’s lead, Correa and county Democrats said they remain hopeful.
“It’s a nail-biter, but understand something: When I first started running for office they said there was no way I could win,” Correa said. “I was running against an incumbent Republican, and they said there’s no way Lou is going to be able to raise the money.
“A month ago, some of the polls showed me 20 points down,” Correa said. “As recent as a week before [the election], they still showed me 12 points down. So all along it’s been an uphill struggle. I’d say I’m always cautiously optimistic. I know what I’m up against.”
Morrissey (R-Santa Ana) called his campaign Wednesday from an airplane on the way from Sacramento to Orange County and learned that he had inched further ahead of Correa. He later said he too was optimistic.
“I feel pretty good, but then I’ve felt reasonably good all along,” he said. “Now that we have almost all the absentees counted I feel pretty secure.”
Morrissey said he is not surprised that the race is so close. Sanchez’s strong campaign against Dornan probably brought out Correa supporters as well, the assemblyman said. Also Bob Dole’s lackluster showing--including the early concession that was issued and then withdrawn by Dole’s campaign on election night--probably kept some of Morrissey’s supporters from the polls, he said.
“There was a lot of people that didn’t vote because of that,” Morrissey said. “We had a big get-out-the-vote drive, but after Dole conceded, I’m sure many people just stayed at home.”
Nonetheless, Morrissey said he is looking forward to a second term.
“I intend to do what I have done in the past two years,” he said. “I intend to serve the people who voted for me, voted against me, didn’t vote at all or are not registered to vote.”
County Democrats say a Morrissey defeat would be the political icing on the cake should Sanchez prevail.
“We’re kind of shellshocked about the congressional district that we’ve finally taken back, because that’s been Republican [seat] a lot longer,” said Marty Schrank, secretary of the county Democratic Central Committee.
Morrissey’s two-year occupation of the seat formerly held by Democrat Tom Umberg, who left it in 1994 to run for state attorney general, was an irregularity that would only be corrected by a Correa victory, Schrank said.
“We’re very encouraged,” she said. “But we had that seat for four years and then lost it. This is the second time we’ve tried to take it back and by rights it’s ours. The registration there is Democratic.”
In other races:
* Santa Ana Unified School District board candidate Aida Espinoza had 11,152 votes, maintaining a 900-vote lead over Debra K. O’Donnell, who had 10,252 votes.
* Attorney Nancy Pollard had 346,638 votes to Municipal Judge Jim Brooks’ 342,770 in an Orange County Superior Court race.
* Bernie P. Kilcoyne held onto a five-vote lead over Denise Keller, with 4,899 to 4,894, in the race for a seat on the Brea Olinda Unified School District board.
* Debbie Hughes widened her lead over Frank L. Ury in the race for the Saddleback Valley Unified School District board, with 27,450 votes to 26,706.