Assemblyman Tom Harman of Huntington Beach had a message for voters Friday: Cam on.
It’s Vietnamese for “thank you,” and Harman had many to thank in the Little Saigon area of Westminster and Garden Grove who propelled him into a June 6 runoff for the 35th Senate District.
Now, Harman must face Democrat Larry Caballero of La Palma.
The strength of Harman’s support among Vietnamese voters emerged from a recount of the April 11 special primary election paid for by his Republican opponent, Diane Harkey, a Dana Point city councilwoman who narrowly lost.
After a two-week hand recount was completed Friday, Harman’s 236-vote lead had dipped to 225 out of about 98,000 votes cast.
But the most startling result came from a review of nearly 3,000 non-English absentee ballots that were cast, most of which were printed in Vietnamese. Among those ballots, Harman was the runaway winner, surpassing Harkey by 773 votes.
Both campaigns offered reasons for Harman’s superior showing among Vietnamese voters. It was mostly conjecture, since neither campaign mailed literature in Vietnamese and the race didn’t attract much interest in the ethnic media.
“Tom’s been working with the community for years,” Harman campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Jacobs said. “From our surveys, we knew Tom was popular among Vietnamese voters and we had leaders in the community representing Tom among the grass roots.”
Elections lawyer Benjamin G. Davidian, who represented Harman in the recount, said Harkey suffered by not having an official ballot statement. Harman had a statement in election materials sent to every voter because he agreed to campaign spending limits that Harkey said would have hurt her ability to communicate to voters.
Harkey and her campaign manager, Scott Hart, said the translation of Harkey’s ballot title -- City Council member and businesswoman -- into Vietnamese hurt her. The title in Vietnamese read “board member” and businesswoman. That was too vague, they said, to draw voters’ preference compared with Harman’s title as a California Assembly member.
“I don’t think anything was done on purpose,” Harkey said Friday. “It was exactly translated, and it lost something.”
She said she agreed to the $14,000 cost of the recount because Harman’s win “blew all of our polls to heck” and she wanted to know exactly where she had lost the race.
Given the short, three-month campaign and an uphill battle to make herself known against a six-year legislative incumbent, “We did everything we could,” she said. “Could we have done more had we known? Well, who would have known?”
Harkey said she had no regrets about forgoing a ballot statement to avoid a campaign spending cap of $680,000. She contributed nearly $800,000 to her campaign, which spent an additional $250,000 from donors. Harman spent about half that.
The two also benefited from independent campaigns run on their behalf -- two Republican groups helped Harkey, while Harman got boosts from the union representing state prison guards and the Pechanga Indians. Neither candidate dominated within the sprawling coastal district’s 20 cities, which stretch from Seal Beach to Dana Point: Harman and Harkey won 10 cities each.
Harman drew 1,000 votes more in his hometown of Huntington Beach, while Harkey did best with a nearly 700-vote margin in Fountain Valley.
Harkey also won among voters who cast ballots on election day and among those casting absentee ballots in English.
Assemblyman Van Tran (R-Garden Grove), said he was surprised to hear that Vietnamese absentee voters had pushed Harman over the top. He didn’t endorse either Republican.
The result, he said, “just speaks volumes about the complexity of running for office in a state as diverse as California.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Assemblyman Tom Harman (R-Huntington Beach) won the April 11 special election for the 35th Senate District on the strength of voters casting absentee ballots in their native language, most of them Vietnamese.
Official vote count
*--* Votes behind Tom Harman 37,840 Diane Harkey 37,604 -236 Larry Caballero 22,176 -15,664
New total by recount
*--* Votes behind Tom Harman 37,919 Diane Harkey 37,694 -225 Larry Caballero 22,220 -15,699
Foreign-language absentee ballots
Voters casting foreign-language absentee ballots gave Harman a 773-vote margin.
Number of foreign-absentee votes
*--* Language Number of ballots Vietnamese 2,076 Korean 428 Spanish 169 Chinese 107 Mandarin 88 Cantonese 17
Source: Orange County registrar of voters. Graphics reporting by Jean O. Pasco