Assemblyman Scott Baugh, fighting the taint of felony charges, appeared to be rolling to a resounding victory in the court of public opinion Tuesday, while Laguna Niguel Councilwoman Patricia C. Bates was poised to become the first Assembly voice for South County.
Bates, the first mayor of Laguna Niguel, was powering past two other Republican rivals in the contest to bring South County a seat that in past years has belonged to San Diego County candidates in the district that spills over the county line.
And, in the third hotly contested Assembly primary in Orange County, Garden Grove Councilman Ken Maddox was leading the field of five Republican nominees seeking the 68th District seat to be vacated by Curt Pringle, who was forced to leave by term limit.
Of the three races, the one with the least election-night drama still had the most intrigue because the front-runner faces the specter of a looming criminal trial for campaign improprieties that could, if he is convicted, topple his career.
Baugh, a Huntington Beach attorney, appeared easily to be surviving the challenge of five fellow Republicans, several of whom hammered hard on the question of ethics in the race. The victory would come just three days before Baugh appears in court for a pretrial hearing for the September trial.
"Court is the last thing on my mind," said Baugh, who enjoyed a better than 2-to-1 lead much of the night. "We are celebrating tonight."
In another bruising Assembly campaign, three Republicans were locked in a tight race for the South County's 73rd District. Bates, who this week launched a withering mailer attack against one opponent, had a late edge over San Clemente Councilman Steve Apodaca and Dana Point attorney Jim Lacy.
"It was a hard issue race," Bates said. "We never got off the issues. But Jim and Steve never raised personal issues about Pat Bates, and I didn't do it in regard to them either."
Mike Matsuda, 40, a Democrat, who teaches reading at Orange View Junior High School in Anaheim, ran unopposed and, if early results hold, will face Maddox in November. There are no minor-party candidates on the ballot.
Three of Baugh's opponents took him to task for the charges that he lied on campaign reporting documents. Haydee V. Tillotson, a local developer and Huntington Beach planning commissioner, former Assemblywoman Doris Allen and Fountain Valley Councilman Chuck Conlosh each questioned Baugh's integrity and fitness for office.
Conlosh was a distant second late Tuesday, trailed by Allen. The other candidates in the race were Seal Beach Mayor Marilyn Bruce Hastings and Felix Rocha Jr., 53, vice president of the Orange County Board of Education.
On the Democratic side, Marie H. Fennell of Huntington Beach, a retired social worker, had a wide lead over Rima Nashashibi, an insurance representative from Seal Beach. A Libertarian, Autumn Browne, was unopposed and moves on to face the two major-party winners in November.
For the Republicans, Baugh ran for reelection trumpeting his legislative record.
Both Democrats and Republicans in the Assembly praise Baugh as a dedicated and effective lawmaker. Some Democrats are quick to point out that Baugh, unlike many of Orange County's other legislators, does not let ideology deter him from working with members of the other party.
If Baugh is found guilty of the criminal charges, it could derail his promising political career. A felony conviction would automatically cost him his spot on the Assembly health committee--a pivotal post because he is seen as a Republican point man on the panel--and his compensation. The Assembly could also expel him, although history has shown most members in similar situations have resigned to avoid the removal process.
Tillotson was outspent by Baugh, but she spent the most money of all the candidates to challenge him. The others campaigned on meager resources and a lot of precinct walking. The campaign of Allen, who was recalled from office in the same 1995 election that saw Baugh elected, stalled after she was unable to raise sufficient money, she said.
In the South County's 73rd District, a trio of Republicans battled down to the wire. Bates, in particular, hit hard during the final week, firing off mailers that attacked Lacy for taking money from a conservative trial lawyers group and alleging he overplayed his ties to Ronald Reagan.
Apodaca, meanwhile, ran a bare-bones campaign and didn't attract much attention from his GOP foes. He ran on an apple-pie platform of improving education, cutting crime with tougher sentencing laws and improving the business climate in California.
Lacy tried to outflank his rivals by portraying himself as the most conservative candidate in the field, in particular making much out of his service in the Reagan and Bush administrations and ties to conservatives such as Oliver North.
Bates ran on her record as a councilwoman and founder of the city of Laguna Niguel as well as her strong opposition to a commercial airport at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. She also was the favorite of the Orange County Republican establishment, winning the backing of conservatives such as state Sen. Ross Johnson (R-Irvine) and Pringle.
Rounding out the field were three candidates from other parties who ran unopposed and got a free ride into November's general election. The lone Democrat is Robert D. Wilberg, a county parks department technician. Donald D. Rollins, an information systems manager from Oceanside, is the Libertarian candidate. Matteo Ornati, a Dana Point software company sales director, is representing the Natural Law Party.
In the 68th Assembly District race to fill Pringle's seat, Maddox, a Tustin police officer, held the lead over John Kellogg, a lawyer from Westminster, and Ho Chung, another Garden Grove councilman. The other candidates were Paul D. Gonzales, a businessman from Buena Park, and Westminster Councilwoman Joy L. Neugebauer, who also serves on the Midway City Sanitary District.
Kellogg damaged his campaign in the last week of the race by sending out two mailers on Maddox that earned him a censure from the county GOP. Kellogg had tried to link Maddox to a convicted child molester because Maddox had paid the man, a political consultant, to appear on his slate mailer.
Assemblymen Jim Morrissey (R-Santa Ana) and Baugh both withdrew endorsements of Kellogg because of the mailer.
Times staff writers Peter M. Warren, Robert Ourlian, Tina Nguyen, Deborah Schoch, Bonnie Hayes and Janet Wilson contributed to this report.