At 3 a.m. Wednesday, the results of the fiercely close 26th state Senate race were nearly final: with 93.5 percent of the votes counted, Democrats Ben Allen and Sandra Fluke were poised to advance to the general election in November.
The 26th District state Senate race started like a game of dominoes.
In January, Henry Waxman declared he would retire from U.S. Congress after 40 years representing the 33rd Dstrict of California. Almost immediately, Ted Lieu, State Senator of the 26th, announced he would run to fill Waxman’s seat. Eager candidates from across the Democratic party fell in line in attempt to succeed Lieu.
Visiting the candidates’ Election Night parties was essentially a tour of the sea shore. On the moonlit patio of Warszawa restaurant in Santa Monica, Ben Allen joined his supporters, sipping cocktails and watching returns on a giant projection screen.
Betsy Butler chose a quirky little spot for her Election Night party: the Lantern House in Venice, a trio of funky cottages brimming with artwork, fire pits and lanterns.
Amy Howorth had her crew stationed at her Manhattan Beach campaign headquarters, playing ping pong and snacking while the results trickled in.
Howorth, the mayor of Manhattan Beach who was endorsed by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, seemed content watching the returns, though she was not in the top two.
“I feel good, I feel done,” Howorth said. “And what I am most proud of is the team I had. This was all run by high school kids and I hope I helped give them some really good experience.”
In Venice, Butler was surrounded by a swarm of supporters at the Lantern House. She hugged them warmly and seemed at ease watching the votes come in.
For two years, Butler represented almost half of the 26th district as a state assembly member. After the 2011 redistricting, Butler ran for Assembly in the 50th District and was defeated. Tuesday, she sought a chance to return to state politics and fell just shy.
The atmosphere in Santa Monica was more celebratory. Allen was a clear frontrunner as soon as election results began emerging and ended up with 22 percent of votes.
A Santa Monica native, Allen studied law at Harvard University and is now on the faculty at UCLA as a lecturer in law and education. Allen is a school board member in the Malibu-Santa Monica School District and has previously served as school board president. He said he is driven by a passion for education.
“My big issue is education,” he said. “But I grew up swimming in the ocean here and hiking the hills. I am deeply committed to protecting the environment. And I am opposed to the drilling in Hermosa Beach.”
Allen scored major endorsements from State Sen. Fran Pavley, who represents significant portions pre-redistricting, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslovsky. Even more, he received campaign donations from Bill Bloomfield totaling almost $600,000.
Sandra Fluke, who won 19.7 percent of the votes, chose to celebrate Election Night in a private manner: in her office with her closest volunteers and advisers.
Fluke, a public interest advocate, was thrust into the spotlight in 2012 when she spoke at a House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee meeting about the importance of contraception being covered by health insurance, even at Catholic institutions like Georgetown Law, where she was a student. Rush Limbaugh attacked Fluke on his radio program, calling her “a slut” and “a prostitute” who expects the state to pay her to have sex. Limbaugh later apologized for his remarks, but Fluke rejected his apology.
“The way I look at the Rush situation is that it’s not what qualifies me – that’s my 10 years of work in public interest – but it gives people an idea of how I react when I am in the spotlight,” she said. “I was put in a difficult spot of standing up and doing the right thing and that is how I will continue to react under pressure.”
Fluke is deeply concerned with women’s issues like reproductive rights and the pay gap, but she views her platform as pro-family rather than just pro-woman.
“I am focused on early childhood education because it gives caregivers time to invest in careers,” she said. “And the more effectively we invest in education, the better we can close achievement gaps and address concerns about paid and secured work when you take family leave.”
Though Fluke flirted with the idea of pursuing Waxman’s seat, she decided she could have a greater impact at the state Senate level.
“I think we in this district are in a position to accomplish some really progressive legislation and that we have a responsibility to do it for the rest of the county that is being dragged backward,” she said.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was the impressive performance of Seth Stodder, the only independent candidate and the only non-Democrat, who finished third among the eight candidates with 17.7 percent of the vote.
Stodder is an attorney and former George W. Bush administration official who served as a director in the Customs and Border Protection agency. He placed a close third in Tuesday night’s primary.
In the District 66 Assembly race, nothing was at stake Tuesday night as both candidates automatically advanced to the general election.
Republican candidate David Hadley bested incumbent Democrat Al Muratsuchi by a razor thin margin of 0.16 percent, or 73 votes, at the conclusion of the election returns early Wednesday morning. District 66, historically a swing district, encompasses the South Bay, including the Beach Cities, Palos Verdes Peninsula, Torrance and Gardena.
First-time candidate Hadley, a Manhattan Beach family man and investment banker, said his victory proves his campaign’s message is resonating with South Bay voters, volunteers and donors.
“I am very pleased with last night’s victory — a win is a win,” Hadley said. “We expected to be competitive last night, but we did not go all out to win; we were saving resources for the general election. So we are happy to have won.”
Muratsuchi is a former Torrance school board member who recently made headlines with an anti-fracking bill which would allow the city of Hermosa to repay its $17.5 million oil debt using the state’s tideland funds. He pointed to the low voter turnout this time around and said he is more optimistic about the general elections.
“The bottom line is, yesterday’s results are more about the turnout than about me and my record in the South Bay,” Muratsuchi said. “I’m confident that come November, voters will know my record of balanced budgets and fighting for jobs and our schools, and that they’ll reelect me to the assembly.”