Councilwoman Janice Hahn finished first in Tuesday's Congressional primary. But her real victory had to do with who finished second.
Craig Huey, a Republican who was unknown before the campaign, was edging Secretary of State Debra Bowen for second by 206 votes in unofficial returns. If that result holds up, Hahn should have a much easier time winning the seat in the July 12 runoff.
Huey invested $500,000 of his own money in the campaign. "Yes it's still unofficial," he said on Twitter. "But nonetheless, great night to celebrate."
The mood was starkly different at Bowen's headquarters in Torrance. Bowen had been in second place the entire night, until Huey closed the gap and then took the lead with all precincts counted. Bowen's strategist, Steve Barkan, estimated there were still 8,000 votes uncounted -- which he guessed would give Bowen an extra 250 votes.
"It's gonna be really close," he said. "We're not gonna know for a while what the results are."
In a statement, Bowen's campaign manager, Dan Chavez, said "This has been a very spirited campaign and it remains very close. There are 9,811 ballots that still need to be processed -- more than enough to make up the difference. We are confident Debra Bowen will be in the runoff."
Hahn finished first with 24.6% of the vote. Huey had 21.9% and Bowen had 21.5%. Anti-war candidate Marcy Winograd finished fourth, with 9.5%.
At Bowen headquarters, her supporters vented frustration at Huey and at Winograd, who was believed to have taken votes from Bowen. Hahn's campaign baited Winograd into the race by getting Bowen to sign a pro-Israel pledge, which will loom as the key moment of the campaign if the current result holds.
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Hahn gave a victory speech at 11 p.m., before she knew who she would be facing in the runoff. She thanked supporters, who included Speaker John Perez, Councilman Eric Garcetti, Councilman Bill Rosendahl, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and Controller Wendy Greuel. She also stressed her "regular galness," a pointed contrast to the more wonkish Bowen.
"People want a Congress member who is like them," she said. "Who thinks like them, acts like them. I love people."
Assuming she faces Huey in the runoff, Hahn will have a strong partisan advantage. Democrats outnumber Republicans 45-27 in the district. She also has the advantage of living in the district. Huey lives in Rolling Hills Estates, which is just outside it.
The L.A. County Registrar-Recorder's office is expected to announce the official result on Friday.