Bowen’s concession sets the stage for a Huey vs. Hahn showdown in July

After mulling a recount challenge to Tea Party-backed candidate Craig Huey in the aftermath of California’s 36th congressional district top-two open primary, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen has conceded.  

     “Since Tuesday’s election, my staff, legal advisors and election experts participated in the ballot review process to ensure a full and fair vote was conducted. It is clear now that I will not be in the runoff and I congratulate Janice Hahn and Craig Huey,” Bowen said in a concession statement.

The California Secretary of State thanked her team of 1,100 volunteers and 80 interns who joined her campaign, some for the first time, to make phone calls and go door to door on her behalf. She called the democratic process stronger because of their involvement and expressed confidence in their future ability to make a difference. Huey now advances to the second runoff spot for a July 12 head-to-head contest with former Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn.

As noted by my colleague Damon Eris early Wednesday, Bowen initially remained in second place out of the field of 16 candidates according to the semi-official results of Tuesday night’s election. Huey’s late rally was for the most part unexpected.

     “With 100% of precincts reporting, LA City Councilwoman Janice Hahn came first in the race with 24.7% support. In second place was Secretary of State Debra Bowen at 21.5%. Bowen was followed by Republican businessman Craig Huey, who had garnered 20.4% of the vote. Republican Mike Gin and progressive Democrat Marcy Winograd rounded out the top five,” Eris reported at first.

In an update to Mr. Eris’s post, Huey then pulled ahead of Bowen by less than a percentage point, leading by 206 votes at the time. Huey’s late surge came as a surprise to me, as well as to others covering Tuesday’s special election.  Most expected to see a two-Democrat showdown in the July general election. 

Despite not being well-known and investing $500,000 of his own funds into the race, the businessman pulled out the upset victory over Bowen in a district in which Democrats outnumber Republicans by a margin of 2-1.  Huey still faces an uphill battle, however, as over 60% of the residents in the 36th district voted for President Obama in 2008. A solid majority of district voters cast ballots for Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein in recent elections.  Also worth noting, in 2008, outgoing Congresswoman Jane Harman carried her home district by approximately 68% of the vote.  

The political landscape across the country has changed quite a bit since 2008, though. Huey’s surprising second place finish confirms this emerging trend. Another unexpected victory in July would serve as yet another reminder of the growing relevance of the Tea Party movement.

Despite receiving criticism from some for not endorsing fellow colleague and Democratic candidate Janice Hahn in the July special election, Bowen continued to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest in her capacity as Secretary of State.  She said:

     “As Secretary of State, I have always implemented a strict policy of not endorsing candidates to avoid even a perception of conflict, and I will continue that policy.”