The primary race for the 26th Senate District was anyone’s game, analysts predicted, and it proved to be a nail biter until the bitter end.
Though Democrat Ben Allen bolted to the lead and stayed there during the vote count Tuesday, activist Sandra Fluke climbed into the second spot — thus qualifying for the November runoff — late in the night.
The two bested six others in the field, all but one Democrats, in their bid to succeed Ted Lieu, who gave up the Senate seat to run for Congress.
Analysts say crowded races, like in the 26th Senate District and the 33rd Congressional District where Lieu qualified for the runoff Tuesday, and subsequent voter confusion likely contributed to the pitiful voter turnout.
Allen, a two-term member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, was the top vote-getter with 21.9 percent of the vote. Fluke, a West Hollywood attorney who gained notoriety after she was verbally assailed by conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, came in second with 19.4 percent.
Independent Seth Stodder was third with 17.7 percent of the vote. Democrat Betsy Butler, a former state assemblywoman, had 16.5 percent and Manhattan Beach Mayor Amy Howorth, also a Democrat, had 15.6 percent.
“We are very excited over here,” Allen said early Wednesday. “It’s an incredible feeling. It is sort of a combination of humility and surprise and gratitude and excitement.”
In a statement Wednesday, Fluke said: “I am immensely proud of my campaign. We ran a campaign that shows what kind of elected official I will be: one who is accountable to the individuals who voted me into office, not to special interests.
“I’m proud the voters know that I will be the kind of progressive leader who isn’t afraid to stand up for what is right, and will always fight for them.”
Both Allen and Fluke live in the northern reaches of the 26th District, which begins in the Palos Verdes Peninsula and proceeds northward to Santa Monica. It then juts to the east and takes in Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and Hollywood.
Scott Lay, a Davis-based political analyst and publisher of AroundtheCapitol.com, said that despite low young-voter turnout statewide, young voters locally — especially students around UCLA and Santa Monica College — likely helped Fluke finish in the top two.
“She had the personal story, and she probably drew in women voters who would have gone with Betsy Butler,” he said.
As for Allen, Lay said he clearly benefited from generous independent expenditures from Republican-turned-independent Bill Bloomfield, a wealthy businessman and former congressional candidate. Bloomfield spent about $600,000 on Allen’s behalf.
“Ben probably got a significant Republican and moderate/independent vote,” Lay said. “He was given the ‘conservative Democrat’ pedigree by Bill Bloomfield’s support.”
Lay noted that the “abysmal” Los Angeles County voter turnout — 18.8 percent — could be attributed to a multitude of factors.
He said that while many expected independents to flock to the polls under the new “top-two” primary system — which allows voters to pick candidates outside of their own party, and independents to pick candidates in parties — the system backfired.
“There’s a strong suggestion it made (voting) more confusing because you had more candidates to consider,” Lay said. “When you have 18 candidates on a ballot for Congress, you kind of throw up your hands and say, ‘I’ll come to the polls when there are only two in November.’ Has the top-two backfired and reduced turnout?”
Lay said Tuesday’s primary election is not a strong predictor of turnout come November, when controversial measures will appear on the ballot.
“Initiatives are powerful in drawing people out,” he said. “Issues are easier than candidates. ‘Do I want more money for schools or do I not want my taxes raised’ vs. ‘Here are 18 candidates running for Congress.’ ”
Lay said the primary was devoid of the kind of measures that elicit passionate voter turnout.