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West: A Dozen New Players Win the West Coast

The West Coast kept things interesting this Election Day without causing too much drama for re-elected President Barack Obama.

He carried every state in the Pacific time zone, plus his birth state of Hawaii, while GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney secured the support of those in former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s stomping grounds, Alaska.

The real action was at the Congressional level, contests that showed one longstanding lawmaker the door, carved out room for seven entirely new seats, paved the way for 13 newcomers (including one political neophyte) and managed to log a few demographic firsts.

Rep. Pete Stark, the 20-term incumbent and dean of the California Democratic House delegation, was forcibly retired by Dublin City Councilman Eric Swalwell (D). The challenger advanced to the general election courtesy of California’s new “jungle” primary system, in which the top two finishers advance regardless of political party. Swalwell claimed 53 percent of the vote to knock off Stark, who in 2010 breezed back into office with 72 percent in the 15th district. 

Down in the 30th district, Rep. Brad Sherman edged out fellow Democratic Rep. Howard Berman in one of the most volatile intraparty tussles of this cycle. Both candidates enjoyed solid support — 65 percent and 70 percent, respectively — in their 2010 bids, but they were foisted upon each other this time around because of redistricting.

The remainder of the Golden State’s freshman class runs the gamut from conservative Republican Rep.-elect Doug LaMalfa (1st district), determined to dismantle Obama’s signature health care overhaul, to an openly gay Japanese-American Democratic Rep.-elect Mark Takano (41st district). Takano and Wisconsin Sen.-elect Tammy Baldwin (D) will join Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) as the second and third openly gay members of the 113th Congress. 

Republican David Valadao (21st district) moves from the California Assembly to the House, mapping out plans to put the brakes on funding for high-speed rail projects in his home state once he gets to D.C. Democrat Tony Cardenas (29th district) is expected to be strong advocate for immigration reform, placing himself in the camp of those who would like to create a path to citizenship for children brought to this country by illegal immigrants. 

Democrat Alan Lowenthal (47th district) garnered 55 percent of the vote against GOP challenger Gary DeLong, clearing the way for Lowenthal to pursue the “green-collar jobs” and broader education initiatives he wants to cultivate in and around Los Angeles. Democrat Juan Vargas (51st district) handily defeated two-time Republican runner-up Michael Crimmins, walking away with roughly 70 percent of the vote for the seat vacated by fellow Democrat Bob Filner. A seasoned legislator, Vargas studied alongside Obama at Harvard Law School.

Democrat Mazie Hirono made history, becoming the first Asian woman to serve in the Senate. Hirono trounced former Gov. Linda Lingle (R), sewing up nearly 63 percent of Hawaii’s support. Hirono is replacing retiring Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka. 

On the House side, former Honolulu City Councilwoman Tulsi Gabbard (D) cruised to victory in the 2nd district seat vacated by Hirono, locking down more than 80 percent of the vote against GOP contender Kawika Crowley.

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) just barely held on to his seat, eking out a win against Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley in a contest decided by about 12,000 votes. Heller was appointed to the Senate in May 2011, sliding into the slot left open by scandal-plagued Republican John Ensign. 

Democrat Dina Titus, who was ousted from Nevada’s 3rd district seat by Republican Rep. Joe Heck in 2010, will return next spring after locking down nearly 64 percent of the vote in Berkley’s 1st district. Titus helped keep Nevada’s delegation evenly split between the two parties in her win against GOP challenger Chris Edwards. Meanwhile, Democrat Steven Horsford (4th district) broke new ground, becoming the first African-American sent to Congress from the Silver State. The former Nevada Senate Majority Leader scored just over 50 percent of the vote in his race against GOP challenger and 2010 Senate candidate Danny Tarkanian.

In the Evergreen State, Democrat Suzan DelBene, a former Microsoft executive with no legislative experience, secured about 54 percent of the vote in the 1st district. The former state Department of Revenue director has touted higher taxes for upper-income earners as a top priority and also wants to help undo the Defense of Marriage Act.

Democrat Derek Kilmer (6th district) bested Republican challenger Bill Driscoll in the race to replace retiring Rep. Norm Dicks (D), locking down 58 percent of the vote on the Olympic Peninsula. A former state Senator, Kilmer has vowed to broaden the scope of the Pell Grant program. After being beaten in 2010, Democrat Denny Heck got it right this time around, notching nearly 60 percent of the vote in Washington’s newly drawn 10th district. The former state House Majority Leader is all about “smart grid” technology, expanding trade opportunities and stimulating economic growth.

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