State Sen. Adam Schiff claimed victory today in his bid to unseat Rep. James E. Rogan--a contest supercharged by a national audience and record spending.
After an early lead by the incumbent, Schiff (D-Burbank) surged ahead as midnight approached and declared the hotly contested seat his just before 1 a.m.
“We won a great victory tonight,” Schiff told his cheering supporters at the Pasadena Hilton. “We won a great victory, not only for the district . . . but because the nation was watching, for the nation. We took on the best-funded campaign in the country and we beat it.”
Rogan (R-Glendale) had left his campaign party earlier in the evening, after telling his supporters at the Glendale Hilton that “this is a tough race. . . . It’s not only the most expensive House race, it is the toughest House race.”
The Republican incumbent said he wasn’t sure the race would be settled until this morning. Told of Schiff’s victory declaration, Rogan’s spokesman said only that the Democrat’s claim was premature.
The race between the two in the 27th Congressional District took on an emotional, outsize profile in a year of presidential politics that many found banal and a blowout U.S. Senate race in California.
Rogan’s central role as a House prosecutor during President Clinton’s trial before the U.S. Senate--in which he declared Clinton “a monarch, subversive of, or above, the law"--made his reelection a national cause celebre and a $10.3-million-plus spend-a-thon. By election day, it was on pace to become the most expensive House race ever.
True believers of both the right and the left fervently trolled for votes until the last moment Tuesday.
The Rev. Lou Sheldon of Orange County phoned in to the district supporting Rogan’s “traditional values” and attacking Schiff’s agenda to “promote and advance homosexuality.”
A battalion of 400 county union volunteers operated phones and walked door to door for Schiff. They were joined by Tom Short, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees, who flew in from New York, declaring that “James Rogan is owned, operated and controlled by the religious right wing of the Republican Party.”
Jeanette Jones, a retired teacher and grandmother, stood at a Glendale street corner Tuesday and waved a homemade “Vote Rogan” placard.
“During the impeachment hearings, he stood up to President Clinton and for what is right,” said Jones, 68. “Now we are here to fight the good fight for him.”
Throughout most of the campaign, impeachment haunted the race like a powerful, unmentionable poltergeist.
The “I-word” scarcely passed Schiff’s lips. But across the district, which stretches from the Los Angeles suburbs of Sunland and Tujunga to Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena and San Marino, the distant sounds of the trial echoed in the persistent bleating of partisans nationwide and the ceaseless “ka-ching” of the campaign money machines.
The two sides did not deny the absurdity of attracting so much money--particularly in a district where changing demographics had all but foreordained a shift to the Democratic camp after years as a Republican bastion. Both sides predicted that even if Schiff failed this year, redistricting would all but guarantee a Democratic victory in 2002.
Often the competing candidates used their money simply to raise still more money and then to spend it all, just because the other side did.
“It’s kind of like the mutually assured destruction doctrine,” Jim Wilkinson, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said just before election day. “You could erase all the money and the result might be the same.”
The result: more than 140 ads a day on the air for the two candidates . . . on Armenian cable television alone. The California Republican Party broadcast television ads throughout most of Southern California, just to hit the small islands where Rogan and another incumbent were at war.
Mail carriers reported working as much as three hours overtime a day to tote the extra campaign mail. There were gems such as the pamphlet from the California Republican Party, saying Schiff had voted to make it easier for prison inmates to get “Satanic bibles.”
“A new low,” Schiff declared. By election day, the challenger was nearly apologetic about the volume of his own mail. “The last campaign brochure,” his final mailer read. “I promise.”
“It’s just too much,” said 80-year-old Elizabeth Grant of Pasadena. “It’s just repetition, over and over and over again. They should just calm down a bit.”
But though many residents of the district were heartily sick of it all, in living rooms around America, the Rogan-Schiff contest still grabbed attention.
Riveted to the Rogan results in faraway Little Rock was Asa Hutchison (R-Ark.), a Rogan friend and fellow House impeachment prosecutor.
Watching from a hotel in Toronto was actor and liberal activist Danny DeVito, searching for locations for a movie but also attuned to a race he deemed “really big stuff for all of us.”
Joseph W. Cagle Jr. of Southern Pines, N.C., said he was determined to stay up into the wee hours to get final Rogan-Schiff results.
The retired geologist gave $925 to Rogan, admiring the Californian for “his intelligence and the way he presented himself” in the impeachment trial of that “despicable character,” Bill Clinton.
“He is a pervert for one thing and a serial adulterer,” said Cagle, a B-17 tail gunner in World War II. “The way he contaminated the Oval Office. It just makes me mad.”
Meanwhile, in Vermont, a bi-coastal San Franciscan explained his $1,000 donation to Schiff. “This is a crucial race,” said Paul Growald, an investor and former cable television executive. The prospect of a Rogan victory “worries me deeply. The thought of a Republican president and House. . . . I have lost sleep over it.”
Even without the impeachment debate, this would have been a tight race. Rogan barely eked out a 3% victory two years ago against a little-known challenger.
His district was shifting beneath him--from white and safely Republican to ethnically diverse and Democratic. On election day, Democrats held a 7% registration advantage.
Some analysts argued that Rogan’s impeachment fervor actually helped him--providing enough money to compete in an ever-more-Democratic district.
Big donors to his campaign were offered a poster of Rogan and the rest of the House impeachment managers. “Our flag is failing,” the poster declared. “Catch the flag as we keep our appointment with history.”
In a fund-raising letter to party faithful around the nation, Rogan declared that President Clinton “wants to crush me and throw me out of Congress as part of his personal crusade of revenge.”
But the Clinton issue and Rogan’s conservatism also had prominent Democrats urging Schiff into the race. The state senator could have waited two years, until after redistricting.
Rather than stress the president or the past, both candidates obsessed over narrow slices of the local electorate. A prime example were some 23,000 Armenian voters--thought to be open to both parties and courted beyond precedent.
As a state senator, Schiff had cultivated the Armenian community by garnering state funds for a documentary film on the slaughter of Armenians between 1915 and 1923. He promoted economic ties between California and the Republic of Armenia.
Not to be outdone, Rogan pushed a House resolution this year that would have declared the mass deaths a genocide by Turks. By the time Republican leaders let the resolution die late last month, it had alienated Turkish leaders and created a diplomatic furor.
But as with most congressional elections, for all the national attention, local issues predominated. Schiff described his hoped-for role in Congress as a veritable super-councilman--continuing his fight for light rail service in Pasadena and against the extension of the Long Beach Freeway.
Friends and supporters depicted the 40-year-old state senator as a tenacious technocrat, committed to the middle of the road.
His support of gun control and abortion rights more closely aligned with the views of voters in his district, most analysts believed.
Impeachment mattered, Schiff said on election night, only in that it acted as a guidepost for moderate voters. “It caused people to look at Mr. Rogan’s record on a whole host of other issues,” Schiff said. “And what they saw, they didn’t like.”
Rogan carried a conservative voting record into the race--anti-abortion, against most gun control and an opponent of most Democratic legislation, including an HMO reform bill that Congress passed last term.
The former prosecutor and state assemblyman tried to moderate that image in the campaign by saying he supported two Republican-sponsored HMO reform bills and a three-day waiting period for background checks on gun show sales.
Meanwhile, the impeachment battle earned him star power and a possible hedge against defeat. Appearing at the California GOP convention last year, Rogan got more standing ovations than seven presidential hopefuls.
Many predict that the congressman could land a job in a Republican administration. Others believe he is primed for a run for statewide office--perhaps the U.S. Senate, an office he almost sought this year.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
The race for California’s 27th Congressional District is likely to wind up as the most expensive in history. What the candidates raised:
Rep. James E. Rogan (R-Glendale): More than $6 million
State Sen. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank): Almost $4 million
Independent campaigns: An additional $2.2 million
Previous record: $8.9 million spent by former Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and his Democratic opponent, Michael Coles, in 1996.
A substantial share of the 27th District money came from out of state. The Federal Election Commission reports the home state only of donors who contribute more than $200. Through Oct. 18, Schiff had $1,099,163 in contributions of $200 or more. Rogan had raised $1,256,971 in contributions of $200 or more. Of those larger contributions, 16.6% of Schiff’s money and 32.2% of Rogan’s came from outside California.
Source: Federal Election Commission
Researched by MALOY MOORE / Los Angeles Times