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Absentee Vote Counts Will Not Affect GOP's Hold on House

By John E. Yang
The Washington Post

Election officials in California and Arizona on Thursday were counting absentee and mail-in ballots that could be decisive in close races for the House.

While the outcomes will not jeopardize the Republicans' hold on the House, they could oust two of its most colorful and boisterous GOP members.

Rep. Robert K. Dornan, (R-Calif.), the ardently anti-abortion and anti-gay nine-term lawmaker, had a 233-vote lead over Democratic challenger Loretta Sanchez, a financial adviser, with several thousand absentee ballots yet to be counted. The tally may not be final until early next week.

Dornan ran a long-shot campaign for the presidency this year and was slow raising money for his House race. "Forget B-1 Bob,' " Dornan said early Wednesday morning, referring to the nickname that reflects his steadfast defense of the bomber. "I'm now Landslide Dornan.' "

California law gives local election officials 28 days to tabulate absentee ballots and make results final.

In Arizona's 6th District, Democratic officials are hopeful several thousand uncounted mail-in and provisional ballots will erase the 590-vote lead that freshman Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R), a leading cheerleader for the "Republican revolution," has over former state Democratic chairman Steve Owens. Hayworth, the target of nearly $2 million worth of labor-sponsored negative television advertising, brushed aside suggestions the outcome could change. "It would take a miracle," he said.

Provisional ballots are cast by voters whose addresses do not match voter registration records or who requested a mail-in ballot but appeared at a polling place anyway. They are set aside to be verified and counted separately.

Arizona law requires election officials to count all votes within 72 hours after the polls close, but officials in some of the district's eight counties said they doubted that deadline would be met.

Thousands of uncounted absentee ballots also could decide the fate of the 16-term House career of Rep. George E. Brown Jr., D-Calif., who had a 1,150-vote lead over GOP challenger Linda M. Wilde, a California Superior Court judge.

Some of those races probably will be decided by recounts, which already have been ordered in two other races. One is to begin Friday in the Philadelphia-area district, where freshman Rep. Jon Fox (R) defeated Montgomery County Commissioner Joseph M. Hoeffel (D) by 10 votes - the narrowest margin in any House election in 12 years.

Fox defeated Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky (D) in 1994 after criticizing her for voting for President Clinton's 1993 budget plan, which passed the House by a single vote.

Massachusetts election officials will re-examine the ballots that gave Democrat John F. Tierney a 582-vote victory over two-term Rep. Peter G. Torkildsen (R).

In Connecticut, Democratic challenger Charlotte Koskoff was considering whether to ask a judge to order a recount in her 1,587-vote loss to Rep. Nancy L. Johnson (R), chairman of the House ethics committee. A recount would have been automatic if the margin had been one-half of 1 percent of the 227,165 votes cast. Koskoff campaign officials were rechecking tallies in several towns Thursday to see if the margin could be narrowed enough to automatically trigger a recount.

Koskoff, who won only 31 percent of the vote against Johnson in 1994, criticized Johnson's handling of the prolonged ethics investigation of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.

Not counting the two California races that are too close to call and two Texas races in which seats could change hands and will be decided Dec. 10, Democrats have gained 9 seats, well short of the 19 needed to regain control of the House.