Dymally, Wright locked in tight race

Times Staff Writer

As Californians picked favorite candidates in Tuesday’s primary elections for 153 legislative and congressional districts, Mervyn Dymally and Roderick “Rod” Wright were locked in a too-close-to-call Democratic contest for a hook-shaped state Senate district that stretches from Inglewood to Rancho Palos Verdes.

Fran Pavley was leading Lloyd Levine for the Democratic nomination to represent Malibu and Santa Monica in the Senate.

Among the Democrats vying mightily for a San Fernando Valley Assembly seat, Bob Blumenfield appeared to be besting three other candidates including Laurette Healey and Stuart Waldman.

The Democratic clashes in Senate races pit current or former colleagues in the Legislature. Dymally, 82, was elected the state’s first black senator in 1966 and the first black lieutenant governor in 1974. He returned to Sacramento in 2002 and will be forced by term limits to leave the Assembly this year.


Wright, 55, left the Assembly in 2002 after serving the maximum term. He has argued that he would be the more energetic public servant for the 25th Senate District and made an issue of Dymally’s age.

Dymally campaign manager Nam Le said that if Dymally were too feeble to do the job, business and other special interests would not have spent $1.3 million to try to defeat him.

“They would have ignored us and let things fall where they’d fall,” said Le.

Levine and Pavley served four years together in the Assembly. Term limits ousted her in 2006, while he must depart in December. Both have touted their environmental records in the left-leaning 23rd Senate District now represented by Sheila Kuehl.

Pavley said she had an “army” of volunteers in the San Fernando Valley and the Westside.

“The campaign was the means to get back to work in Sacramento,” she said.

In the Democratic primary for the San Fernando Valley’s 40th Assembly District, Blumenfield enjoyed the backing of his former boss, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Valley Village), and top-tier Democratic endorsements. Waldman, a former legislative staff member, promised to make improved public schools his top priority, while Healey sought to focus on vocational education and the economy.

In the primary contests for 53 congressional seats, there was little excitement outside of the tough race for the seat held for 17 years by Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Roseville). In early returns Tuesday, Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) led Doug Ose of Granite Bay for the nomination in that strongly conservative Northern California district.


Doolittle announced his retirement in January as federal investigators probed his ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Ose represented a neighboring Sacramento Valley congressional district from 1999 to 2006. McClintock has served 22 years in the Legislature representing parts of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

“Tom is a good match for this district,” said McClintock spokesman Stan Devereux.

Ose vowed to work to solve district problems, while McClintock -- a strong tax fighter and advocate of smaller government -- said he would not try to steer federal spending to the district.


In the only other California congressional race without an incumbent, the son of Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) held a significant name-recognition advantage in his battle against three other Republican candidates and appeared to be headed toward victory in early returns.

Hunter is retiring after 28 years in Congress. His son, Duncan D. Hunter, 31, a veteran of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, promised the heavily Republican district the same conservative principles of his father, such as support for the war in Iraq and opposition to gay marriage.

In other Los Angeles County legislative races, Isadore Hall was leading three other Democrats for the 52nd Assembly District, which includes Watts and Compton. Assemblyman Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) took an early lead against former Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy of Monrovia in the Republican primary to represent the conservative 29th Senate District, which includes Arcadia and Walnut.

Months ago, when two other politically connected candidates dropped out of the race, food and commercial workers’ union leader John Perez practically locked up the Democratic nomination to represent the 46th Assembly District that includes downtown Los Angeles. Perez was ahead in early results Tuesday evening.


Two Long Beach city councilwomen faced each other for the Democratic nomination to represent the 54th Assembly District. Bonnie Lowenthal appeared to be beating Tonia Reyes Uranga.

The Democratic contest for an Assembly seat that includes Pomona and parts of San Benardino featured four candidates. The sole woman -- Norma J. Torres -- took an early lead for the nomination in the heavily Democratic 61st District.

One of the nastiest legislative races featured Assemblyman John Benoit (R-Palm Desert) against a former Assembly colleague, Russ Bogh of Cherry Valley. Their campaign was characterized by accusations of dirty tricks and outright lies. Benoit held an edge in early returns in the Republican primary to represent the 37th Senate District, which covers half of Riverside County.

Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) launched another bitter legislative race when he broke a Capitol taboo and challenged incumbent Sen. Carole Migden (D-San Francisco). Former Assemblyman Joe Nation (D-San Rafael) also jumped in against Migden. With most votes counted, Leno led and Migden lagged in third place.


Sen. Jeff Denham (R-Salinas) appeared to be in no political danger, despite a recall effort launched against him last year by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) after Denham refused to vote for the state budget. Perata abandoned the recall campaign in May, saying it would hinder bipartisan cooperation, but the recall measure still appeared on the ballot in Denham’s district.

Most of California’s 120 legislative districts are so dominated by either Republican or Democratic voters that the general election in November is practically preordained. The winners Tuesday in 80 Assembly and 20 Senate races will likely coast to victory in November.

Special interest groups invested nearly $10 million on their own, independent campaigns trying to influence the contests. Independent expenditures have become increasingly potent forces in elections since voters capped direct contributions to candidates in 2000.