LOS ANGELES — The Republican Party’s best chance to wrest a California House seat from Democrats ended in failure late Tuesday, as Rep. Cal Dooley defeated Republican TV anchorman Rich Rodriguez to represent a Central Valley district.
Democrats also picked up a district in the Silicon Valley, as Assemblyman Mike Honda defeated GOP Assemblyman Jim Cunneen for the seat that had been held by moderate Republican Tom Campbell, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate.
California’s other hotly contested congressional races, which Democrats hoped could offset Republican gains elsewhere, were living up to expectations with returns indicating very tight races.
Heading into Election Day, at least eight of the 52 California seats were considered close contests that could end the GOP’s six-year control of the House. Democrats needed to pick up seven seats to gain a majority.
Nationally, Voter News Service projected Republicans would retain control, based on interviews with voters as they left the polls across the country.
The most closely watched California contests might remain nail-biters for days.
A record 3.2 million voters in the state requested absentee ballots, and county election officials said 1 million of those would not be counted Tuesday night.
In the Central Valley race targeted by the GOP, five-term incumbent Dooley beat Rodriguez 51 percent to 47 percent with 93 percent of precincts reporting. The 20th District includes Kings County and parts of Fresno, Kern and Tulare counties.
In the Silicon Valley, Honda captured 54 percent of the vote to Cunneen’s 43 percent, with 52 percent of precincts reporting.
In one of the most closely watched contests, House impeachment manager James Rogan was trailing Democratic state Sen. Adam Schiff. Both sides together raised at least $9.5 million in the suburban Los Angeles race, the costliest congressional contest in U.S. history.
Schiff led Rogan 49 percent to 48 percent with 39 percent of precincts reporting in the 27th District, which was among several targeted by Democrats.
Rogan, a former judge elected to the House in 1996, gained national attention as a House prosecutor during President Clinton’s impeachment, and said that if he lost that would be to blame.
Schiff, a senator since 1996 and well-known in the congressional district, said that if he won he would focus on local issues rather than what he called partisan politics.
Democrats have a 44-37 percent registration edge in the district, which includes Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena, San Marino and La Canada Flintridge.
In another Los Angeles-area district with a Democratic edge in registration, GOP Rep. Steve Kuykendall was leading former Rep. Jane Harman for the 36th District seat she left in 1998 to run unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for governor.
Kuykendall led Harman 52 percent to 44 percent with 20 percent of precincts reporting.
Harman had held the seat representing the affluent Palos Verdes Peninsula for six years.
In San Diego County, three-term Republican incumbent Brian Bilbray was trailing Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Davis, in a district where Democrats and Republicans were almost tied in registration. Davis led Bilbray 49 percent to 47 percent with 80 percent of precincts reporting.
In other closely watched races:
l In Long Beach, GOP Rep. Steve Horn was leading Democratic educator Gerrie Schipske 49 percent to 47 percent for his 38th District seat, with 66 percent of precincts reporting.
l In the East Bay’s 10th District, Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher defeated Claude Hutchison Jr., chairman of the Contra Costa County Republican Party, 52 percent to 44 percent, with 62 percent of precincts reporting.
l In the Central Coast’s 22nd District, Democratic incumbent Lois Capps defeated Republican Mike Stoker, 53 percent to 45 percent, with 100 percent of precincts reporting. An estimated 30,000 absentee votes were expected to remain uncounted election night.