LOS ANGELES – Democrat Janice Hahn defeated Republican Craig Huey in a bitter contest for a Southern California House seat Tuesday, preserving the party's hold on the district and surviving an unusually tough race in a Democratic stronghold.
With 100 precincts reporting, Hahn, a Los Angeles city councilwoman, had 41,585 votes, or about 55 percent, to 34,636, or about 45 percent, for Huey, who owns marketing and advertising companies and largely bankrolled his campaign with nearly $900,000 in personal funds.
With a light turnout and widespread voter anxiety over the economy, Republicans were hoping for an upset that would send a message heading toward the 2012 national elections, in which President Barack Obama will seek a second term.
But Hahn's victory was far from impressive, given an 18-point Democratic registration edge in the 36th Congressional District, which runs from the famous Venice boardwalk through the beach communities south of Los Angeles International Airport.
In May, Democrats snatched a New York congressional seat in a heavily Republican district after capitalizing on fears over a Republican plan to roll back Medicare and Social Security benefits. That made the GOP eager to turn the tables in California, a reliably Democratic state in national elections.
The seat was previously held by Democratic Rep. Jane Harman, who resigned earlier this year to head a Washington think tank.
The race presented a stark choice.
Huey, 61, is a conservative who wanted to slash spending, taxes and debt and roll back government regulation; Hahn, 59, a Los Angeles city councilwoman, is a fixture in local Democratic politics who wants to see the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the growth of alternative energy.
The midsummer contest received little attention at a time of year when voters are thinking about weekends at the beach, the struggling Los Angeles Dodgers or how to survive the partial closure this weekend of Interstate 405, one of the region's main traffic arteries.
Each campaign had pooled over $1 million and plowed much of it into sharp-edged advertising: Hahn had sought to link Huey to Sarah Palin and referred to his agenda as "extremist," while Huey derided Hahn as a career politician with ties to a troubled gang-intervention program.
Bill Clinton recorded automated phone messages for Hahn. Organizing for America, the group that provides Democratic Party's foot-soldiers, asked supporters to make thousands of phone calls.
A day before the race, Hahn's campaign coped with a shock it didn't expect: the death of the candidate's 86-year-old mother Monday. She abruptly suspended her schedule to join her grieving family, but staffers said it would not change the campaign's long-set plans to get voters to the polls.
Her mother, Ramona Hahn, "was looking forward to seeing her daughter sworn in as the next congresswoman of the 36th District. We will work very hard to make that dream a reality," Shallman said.
Hahn and her brother, former Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, said they were devastated by Ramona Hahn's death.
"Continuing without her will be difficult," they said in a statement, which did not mention Tuesday's congressional election.