In one of the very few surprises of the first round of Congressional primaries Tuesday, former California Rep. Dan Lungren (R) appears to be poised to return to Congress after a 16-year absence.
Lungren clung Wednesday to a 1,600-vote lead over state Sen. Rico Oller (R) in the fiercely fought primary to replace retiring Rep. Doug Ose (R) in the Golden State’s 3rd district. Businesswoman Mary Ose, the Congressman’s sister, finished third.
Although local elections officials were still counting absentee ballots at press time Wednesday, Lungren’s lead was expected to hold.
“We have not bought the drapes yet,” said Lungren’s campaign manager, Brian Seitchik. “But for the first time in this campaign, we are on the inside looking out.”
Tuesday’s voting in California, Ohio and Maryland officially set the fields for three Senate races — two of which appear safe for incumbents, with the other having some potential to become competitive.
In California, former Secretary of State Bill Jones (R) took 44 percent of the vote in a multicandidate primary and will face Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) this November.
In Ohio and Maryland, two state Senators won primaries to take on safe incumbents George Voinovich (R) and Barbara Mikulski (D), respectively.
Most Republican observers felt that Lungren was running third in the Sacramento area 3rd district primary as recently as late last week.
Oller, a favorite of party conservatives, and Ose, a moderate like her brother, were spending twice as much on the race as Lungren — and both were on television far longer.
But as Oller and Ose threw brickbats at each other, Lungren, a former state attorney general who represented Long Beach in the House from 1978 to 1988, was helped by a late endorsement from former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who cut a radio spot for Lungren and appeared with him in a slick brochure.
“This is the power of Newt,” said Dan Schnur, a Sacramento-based GOP consultant who was not working on the Congressional race. “In a Republican primary, Newt Gingrich still matters.”
Should he prevail in the general election against financial consultant Gabe Castillo (D) — and any Republican would be heavily favored — Lungren may be able to re-establish his seniority in the Republican Caucus.
Castillo on Wednesday rolled out what is likely to be the Democrats’ chief line of attack against Lungren, who has spent the past few years splitting his time between California and Washington, D.C. “This race is a choice between someone who has been addressing the everyday needs of working families in the region and a lobbyist lawyer who has been representing special interests in Washington,” he said.
Meanwhile, in the other open-seat primary in the Golden State, former state Sen. Jim Costa stunned Lisa Quigley, a former chief of staff to Rep. Cal Dooley (D-Calif.), by an almost 3-1 margin in the Democratic primary to succeed the Congressman.
All along, Costa, who had spent two decades in the legislature, was the heavy favorite. Yet Quigley ran an aggressive campaign, was praised in many corners as an attractive fresh face, and appeared to keep pace with Costa on the fundraising front.
But any chance of the race being close may have ended after Quigley hit Costa with a series of late attacks, highlighting his arrest in 1986 for soliciting a prostitute and the 1994 discovery of drug paraphernalia in his home.
National Democratic operatives say privately that they are glad Quigley raised these issues during the primary. Costa now faces state Sen. Roy Ashburn (R) in November, and while the Central Valley district is strongly Democratic, party strategists believe it was beneficial to have the negative information about Costa on the table long before the general election.
Incumbents prevailed in California’s 51 other Congressional primaries Tuesday, and most are expected to glide to re-election in November. In Orange County, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R) took 83 percent of the vote against former Rep. Bob Dornan (R). In southwestern San Francisco and San Mateo County, Rep. Tom Lantos (D) defeated 27-year-old attorney Rho Khanna 74 percent to 20 percent.
Jones’ primary victory was not unexpected.
In a race that received next to zero attention, he was the only candidate with statewide name recognition, and he benefited from endorsements by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and former GOP Govs. George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson.
Republicans are hoping that Schwarzenegger’s victory in the recall election last fall presages a renaissance for the state party — and a possible upset victory for Jones, who trailed Boxer by 10 points in the most recent poll.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen (Va.) said Golden State GOP leaders “have united and re-energized the Republican Party, laying the groundwork for a competitive race in November.”
But Democrats are already painting Jones as too conservative for the California electorate.
“Bill Jones enters the general election broke and having run to the extreme right on issues Californians care about,” said Cara Morris, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Jones was running a deficit in his campaign account just before the primary, while Boxer was sitting on more than $5 million.
The Buckeye State’s primaries produced no upsets but did advance a candidate who, if elected, would become the youngest woman in the House.
Capri Cafaro, a 26-year-old heiress to a shopping center fortune, dispatched with four Democrats, including a state legislator, to win the right to face Rep. Steve LaTourette (R) in the state’s 14th district.
The political newcomer spent plenty of her own cash — and has more at the ready for LaTourette. She is the daughter of J.J. Cafaro, who was sentenced to probation in connection with the scandal that landed former Rep. Jim Traficant (D-Ohio) in the federal pen.
In the 10th district, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, criticized in some corners for spending too much time running for president, bested his Democratic rival to secure the right to run for a 5th term.
On the GOP side Ed Herman, a realtor and former Army intelligence officer who interrogated al Qaeda suspects in Afghanistan, used his strong criticism of Kucinich’s absences to topple three opponents.
In the intra-party battle for the 6th district seat Rep. Ted Strickland (D) walloped Diane DiCarlo Murphy, a teacher who also serves as treasurer for Traficant’s defense fund.
House GOP Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce also trounced her primary opponent and will face Mark Brown — her 2002 adversary — in November. Brown beat two other Democrats to again become the 15th district nominee.
Larry Kaczala, the Lucas County auditor whom GOP officials are high on, defeated two fellow Republicans, including 2002 nominee Ed Emery, for the right to take on Rep. Mary Kaptur (D) in the 9th district.
For Senate, Voinovich and state Sen. Eric Fingerhut (D) easily won their primaries.
Two Republican House incumbents facing strong challengers prevailed fairly easily. Rep. Wayne Gilchrest defeated state Sen. Richard Colburn 61 percent to 39 percent, and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett upended Frederick County States Attorney Scott Rolle 70 percent to 30 percent.
All other House incumbents easily won renomination and are the heavy favorites in November.
In the Senate race, Mikulski will square off against freshman state Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R) in her quest for a fourth term.