Democrats Keep House Seat In Calif. Special Election
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, March 11, 1998; Page A02
SANTA BARBARA, Calif., March 10Democrat Lois Capps tonight defeated Republican Tom Bordonaro in a closely watched congressional special election that was seen by both sides as a possible harbinger of the 1998 House elections in this most populous state.
With more than 90 percent of the vote counted, the liberal Capps led the conservative Bordonaro by eight percentage points in a race marred by last-minute accusations of smears and misrepresentations on both sides.
Bordonaro, who upset moderate Brooks Firestone in the GOP primary, ran poorly in precincts carried by Firestone. Capps led from start to finish in what had been projected as a tight race, establishing a commanding lead in an early count of absentee ballots and holding it throughout the evening.
Capps, 60, a former Santa Barbara school nurse, is the widow of Walter Capps, who died Oct. 28 after 10 months in office. He was the first Democrat since World War II to represent this district, which includes San Luis Obispo County and most of Santa Barbara County along the state's picturesque central coast.
Bordonaro, 38, is a state assemblyman, former businessman and member of a San Luis Obispo ranching family. He has been in a wheelchair with limited use of his arms since a car accident in 1977.
The third candidate is Robert Bakhaus, a Libertarian who received 1 percent of the vote in the January primary but could be a factor in a close race. Democrats outnumber Republicans in this district by fewer than 1,000 registered voters.
Lisa Finkel, Capps's press secretary, accused the Bordonaro campaign of "dirty lies." She said a telephone campaign being waged from Sacramento was telling Democratic voters in northern San Luis Obispo County that Capps "won't reauthorize Social Security benefits or will raise taxes" to fund the program if elected.
Todd Harris, press secretary of the Bordonaro campaign, said that a portion of this telephone script was misquoted. He acknowledged, however, that callers were claiming that Capps would raise taxes to fund Social Security, as Bordonaro himself has charged.
Harris accused the Capps campaign of misrepresenting Bordonaro's position on medical issues by asserting that he would deny people the right to choose their doctors and favored the interests of accountants and lawyers ahead of medical patients.
"He spent six months in the hospital and is in a wheelchair for the rest of his life," said Harris. "He's on the side of the patient."
These last-minute charges marred what has been mostly a polite campaign waged vigorously across this sprawling district by the two candidates, who have engaged in six debates, three of them televised. But their efforts have been overshadowed by massive single-issue television campaigns conducted on both sides of the abortion issue and by groups that favor political term limits.
The Campaign for Working Families, headed by Gary Bauer, has spent $200,000 to depict Capps as a foe of a form of late-term abortion it describes as partial-birth abortion. In response, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League has spent $100,000 on ads attacking Bauer as an "extremist" who opposes all abortions.
Capps has been the beneficiary of some $300,000 in television and radio ads by Americans for Term Limits and U.S. Term Limits. These groups attack Bordonaro, who favors a term limits amendment to the Constitution, for refusing to sign a pledge limiting himself to three terms. Capps, who opposes the amendment, signed the pledge.
The district is divided along regional and ideological lines. San Luis Obispo County to the north is one of the state's most conservative counties and consistently supports Republicans. Santa Barbara County is more liberal and often supports Democrats in state and national elections.
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