Craig Huey became an instant conservative hero Tuesday night when he came out of nowhere to beat Secretary of State Debra Bowen in unofficial returns in the 36th District Congressional primary.
Though his margin remains razor-close with thousands of ballots to count, Huey is already looking ahead to the runoff and planning how to beat Councilwoman Janice Hahn.
"She has a track record of the failed policies of Los Angeles, and the failed policies of the mayor," Huey said Wednesday. "She won't know what's gonna hit her."
Huey runs a successful direct-marketing firm. He was unheard of before the campaign started, but became a contender by writing himself a $500,000 check.
"I made a sacrifice because I'm passionate about the changes that are needed in America," Huey said. "The only way to communicate was to make that sacrifice."
He hired a top strategist and blanketed the 36th Congressional District with mail. His message was simple: cut the deficit, cut taxes, and bring back jobs. He denounced AB 32, the state's global warming law, and declared that Obama's health care law is unconstitutional -- and that it will "cripple and destroy business."
The Republican field was crowded with six candidates, including Redondo Beach Mayor Mike Gin, who offered a much more moderate message. Two other local officeholders, Mike Webb and Kit Bobko, went for a more conservative argument -- but neither had the money to make it stick. Only Huey had the money and the red-meat message that Republican voters wanted to hear.
Still, he caught most election watchers by surprise. He did not register at all in the most recent public poll, issued in April by the Bowen campaign. The poll showed Bowen and Hahn tied at 20%, with the top Republican -- Mike Gin -- at 8%.
In the final weekend, he was boosted by a radio spot from Tom McClintock. He surged to election day, sneaking past Bowen by 206 votes. The official tally won't be known until Friday, but Huey said he is 95% confident he'll be in the runoff.
"This race has created quite a buzz," Huey said. "It's sent a loud message to the White House and to Congress that's something's going on here in California."
Still, it will take another miracle for Huey to beat Hahn. Democrats hold an 18-point registration advantage, and Hahn will be taking nothing for granted. Her campaign said she was already back at work Wednesday morning calling supporters and preparing for the general election.
Huey said the state and national Republican Party aren't exactly knocking down his door with offers of support -- "They've been pretty invisible," he said -- so he'll probably have to dig into his own pocket again.
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"I'd be shocked and dismayed if (Republican Whip) Kevin McCarthy thinks they can pick up that seat," said Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican strategist.
Huey said he has no plans to moderate his message for the general election.
"My message is very clear and it's not going to be compromised," he said. "I'm running because there's gotta be dramatic change."
Meanwhile, Bowen urged supporters Wednesday to donate to a "recount fund" to help pay for poll-watchers to oversee the counting of 9,811 absentee and provisional ballots.