Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

California results: Dense fog sends LA County ballots to Puente Hills Mall instead of vote counting center

12:10 a.m. Mary Bono Mack holds narrow lead in early returns; about a dozen California House seats up for grabs

About a dozen House races from San Diego to Sacramento remained hotly contested Tuesday as early returns showed political incumbents in a handful of California districts maintaining a razor-thin edge.

The state’s congressional races drew intense interest from national Democrats and Republicans alike this year, after California’s independent redistricting process transformed them from gerrymandered strongholds to free-for-alls in which once-safe, long-serving lawmakers fought for their political lives.

In one of the newly drawn districts in the rural San Joaquin Valley, early returns showed freshman Republican Rep. Jeff Denham staving off his Democratic challenger, former NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez.

The district, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, attracted more than $8 million from political action committees and other outside groups, making it the nation’s seventh-most expensive in terms of outside spending.

Democratic Reps. John Garamendi and Jerry McNerney in the Central Valley and Lois Capps in Santa Barbara, as well as their GOP colleagues Reps. Brian Bilbray of San Diego and Mary Bono Mack of Palm Springs, also held narrow leads, early returns showed.

One exception was Democratic Rep. Pete Stark, the longest-serving member of California’s largest-in-the-nation congressional delegation, who early returns showed was trailing behind his challenger, fellow Democrat and Dublin City Councilman Eric Swalwell.

Some of the most negative election battles this year pitted candidates from the same party against one another, thanks to California’s new top-two primary.

Democratic House members Rep. Brad Sherman and Rep. Howard Berman pitched a battle over a single San Fernando Valley seat that even got physical when Sherman roughly grabbed the smaller Berman by the shoulder during a debate, pulled him toward his chest and hollered, “You want to get into this?”

The two major parties reported raising and spending millions in California on 2012 but kept a keen eye on the 2014 midterm elections, when Democrats believe they stand a good chance at retaking a majority.

The state’s delegation is 33 Democrats and 19 Republicans, with the seat of former Democratic Rep. Dennis Cardoza up for grabs next year after he resigned in August when the fall ballot was already set.

The desert communities near Palm Springs became one of the hottest battlegrounds, where Rep. Bono Mack sought to fend off Harvard-educated physician Raul Ruiz, an effective Democratic fundraiser adept at mobilizing the district’s growing swath of Hispanic voters.

The race typified the influence of money and the negative tone in many congressional races this year.

Last week, Ruiz got major cash infusions from the Democratic Party’s congressional arm and a super PAC founded by the son of liberal billionaire George Soros, after being hit with a barrage of attack ads from Bono Mack highlighting his participation in a 1997 Thanksgiving Day protest at Plymouth Rock in which several Native American activists were arrested. Ruiz was never charged in the incident.

Bono Mack, an eight-term congresswoman who co-chairs Mitt Romney’s California team, called her opponent “un-American” for failing to discuss his involvement early on. She acknowledged the race had been her most competitive since she was elected in 1998 to fill the seat of her late husband, entertainer Sonny Bono.

“This candidate is willing to say anything to any group of people in order to get them to side with him,” she said in an interview.

Ruiz’s campaign, in turn, highlighted an email in which Mack referred to part of her district as a “third world toilet.”

“We have enormous differences and disparities in income and job availability and education here,” he said in an interview. “It’s unfortunate that Congresswoman Bono Mack does not want to talk about what is really important.”

Democrats and Republicans also have been dueling in tight races in several congressional districts surrounding Sacramento.

San Diego’s 52nd district, where Republican Rep. Brian Bilbray is trying to fend off Democratic challenger Scott Peters, also was considered a tossup.

As of Tuesday, outside groups had spent nearly $8.3 million on the race, making it the nation’s sixth-most expensive in terms of outside spending. By comparison, the campaigns together had spent $4.1 million through Sept. 30, the most recent figures available.

All told, super PACs and other outside groups flooded California’s House races with more money than any other state under new rules allowing unrestricted outside political spending . By Tuesday, spending had reached nearly $54 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

— Garance Burke/AP

11:39 p.m.: Takano supporters distracted by Obama victory speech

Supporters of Democratic Congressional candidate Mark Takano were enthralled by Barack Obama's victory speech. So much that they apparently hadn’t noticed their candidate had just surged to a 10-point lead with about 21 percent of votes tallied.

Also a couple of San Bernardino County races we’ve been following closely: county supervisor Neil Derry is fighting for his political life. He’s trying to fend off a challenge by San Manual tribe chairman James Ramos.

Derry’s been implicated in a long-running corruption scandal involving a shady land deal between the county and a private developer. The scandal has led to numerous indictments and the downfall of former board chairman Bill Postmus.

So far, with about 15 percent of votes tallied, Derry is down a whopping 19 percentage points.

And in the newly created 31st Congressional District, its GOP v. GOP as Rep. Gary Miller and state Sen. Bob Dutton battle for supremacy. Miller is dominating so far.

The 31st covers a big stretch of the IE from Rancho Cucamonga to Redlands. Miller left Dutton in the dust money-wise, drawing most of his cash from a national real estate PAC.

11:21 p.m. Richard Alarcon, facing multiple felonies, apparently loses bid for California state Assembly

It looks like L.A. City Councilman Richard Alarcon has lost his bid for the California state Assembly.

His opponent, fellow Democrat Raul Bocanegra, put out a statement based on absentee votes: “I am honored and humbled to have won the support of my community and to be elected to serve as the next state Assemblymember from the 39th District. The people of the Northeast Valley spoke loud and clear tonight and they made it clear they are hungry for change. They want new leaders who aren’t going to toe the line, but are willing to fight the status quo to bring the resources we desperately need — and more importantly deserve — to our communities.”

As a reminder, Alarcon is facing a batch of felonies — voter fraud and perjury — for allegedly living outside of his Los Angeles City Council district. He will be termed out from the City Council next year.

— Alice Walton

11:18 p.m.: Dense fog sends LA County ballots to Puente Hills Mall instead of vote counting center

Settle in for another long... long night of waiting for election returns.

The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder says dense fog will slow the vote count. That’s because the county uses helicopters to transport some of its ballots, and the fog has forced the choppers to head to the Puente Hills Mall in the City of Industry instead of the Registrar-Recorder’s vote counting center in Norwalk.

“It is important that we get all of the ballots here to the Norwalk office safely and securely,” said Registrar-Recorder Dean Logan in a statement. “We are working with the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department to ensure the safe arrival of the ballots.”

— Nick Roman

11:13 p.m. Brad Sherman supporters confident he’ll beat Howard Berman

Blue and white balloons sprung up from tables at the Gate to the Mediterranean restaurant in Encino, where supporters of Congressman Brad Sherman say they’re confident he’ll beat Congressman Howard Berman in their intra-party fight to represent the new 30th Congressional District.

“He’s been a strong presence in the valley,” Desiree Stephenson said of Sherman.

TV news cameras swarmed Sherman as he stepped into the room. An aide herded two dozen supporters holding yellow and blue Brad Sherman signs behind him.

“I did not want to run against Howard Berman,” Sherman said of his opponent, a Los Angeles Democratic Party icon who’s held elected office for four decades.

But Sherman and Berman both refused to move north to Ventura County into a less Democratic area after the state’s independent redistricting commission placed them in the same Western San Fernando Valley district.

Berman was expected soon at his own election night party two blocks down Ventura Boulevard. But polls show he faced an uphill battle.

— Frank Stoltze

Numbers rolling in to Riverside County

With just about 13 percent of votes counted in Riverside County, here are a few notable results: 41st Congressional District Democratic candidate Mark Takano has about 53 percent of the vote to GOP opponent John Tavaglione’s 47 percent. The newly created district leans slightly left, but Tavaglione prevailed in the June primary. So this one ought to be a real squeaker.

In the hotly contested, money-rich 31st state senatorial race, political newcomer Richard Roth, a Democrat, has a slight edge over longtime GOP state assemblyman Jeff Miller.

And in the “tell me something I don’t know” category, longtime Inland Republican Congressman Ken Calvert is hammering opponent Michael Williamson with nearly 30 percent in votes tallied thus far. Random IE political trivia: Calvert narrowly defeated Mark Takano in another congressional race 20 years ago.

— Steven Cuevas

British filmmaking scion hanging out in Riverside

Among those hanging out at Mark Takano’s election HQ in Riverside tonight is one Rupert Russell — and his video cameras. He’s a young British documentary filmmaker who’s been embedded with the Takano campaign for the past six weeks, though he and his partner Jaimie Ruddy have actually been covering the campaign since just before the June primary.

Russell says he wanted to use the Takano-Tavaglione race as way to examine what it takes (and what it costs) to run for public office in the United States.

Full disclosure: I was interviewed for the film earlier this week. Apparently they think I know something about the Inland Empire and its shifting political landscape.

Coincidently, Russell is the son of the late British film director Ken Russell (“Tommy,” “Altered States,” “Lair of the White Worm”). I asked Rupert if we could do my interview while I sat in a big bathtub filled with baked beans (that’s a “Tommy” reference, BTW). He declined.

— Steven Cuevas

Early returns in California congressional races: Bono Mack vs. Ruiz, Ford vs. Waxman, DeLong vs. Lowenthal, Baca vs. McLeod

We knew the race in Palm Springs was going to be close and it’s living up to predictions. Republican incumbent Mary Bono Mack is less than a thousand votes ahead of Democratic rival, emergency room physician Raul Ruiz, leading 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent.

But here’s a surprise: longtime Democrat Henry Waxman, elected to Congress when Gerald Ford was in the White House, is ahead of political novice Bill Bloomfield by only 2 percentage points. Bloomfield self-funded most of his multimillion-dollar campaign.

Another close race is in Long Beach where Republican Gary DeLong, a Long Beach city councilman and businessman, is ahead of longtime state Democratic lawmaker Alan Lowenthal by 2 percent as well.

Out in Ontario, that $2.5 million money bomb from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has put state lawmaker Gloria Negrete McLeod within 4 percentage points of fellow Democrat, incumbent Congressman Joe Baca.

— Kitty Felde