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Capps Takes Early Lead in California

Lois Capps, the widow of Democratic Rep. Walter Capps, led a conservative Republican state assemblyman in early returns for a special election to fill her deceased husband's congressional seat.

The campaign in the 22nd Congressional District provided a glimpse of what might be in store for voters across the nation this year as outside interest groups wield their influence in elections.

Capps opponent, Tom Bordonaro, is a two-term assemblyman and a former rancher and tax preparer. Mrs. Capps, 60, is a retired school nurse.

Bordonaro, 38, presented himself as a conservative who reflects the conservative values of the district. Capps described herself as the best person to carry on the liberal leanings of her late husband, who served only eight months in office before his death in October.

A former religion professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, the late Mr. Capps defeated Republican Rep. Andrea Seastrand in November 1995 by more than 10,000 votes to win a House seat that had been held by the GOP for 48 years.

Registrars in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties predicted a 50 percent to 60 percent turnout of the district's 352,00 voters. The region was bathed in sunshine with temperatures in the mid-70s throughout election day.

In Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, the airwaves were flooded during the campaign with commercials paid for by Washington,D.C.-based groups opposing late term abortions and supporting political term limits and business interests. At times, it seemed as if the candidates' voices had been drowned out by the din.

"They were the most juvenile attempts at fooling people I've ever seen," said John Hayes, a Santa Barbara lawyer, as he walked out of his polling place Tuesday.

Candidates cranked up their own rhetoric a notch Tuesday when Mrs. Capps' campaign accused the Bordonaro camp of calling Democratic voters in the last few days and misrepresenting themselves as a group called The Central Coast Democratic Committee for Honest Representation.

The calls were made by a Sacramento phone bank hired by Bordonaro's campaign, Capps spokeswoman Lisa Finkel claimed.

"If it's not illegal, it's certainly immoral," said John Quain, a Santa Maria Democrat who received one of the phone calls Monday night. "They were trying to get me to vote against Capps."

What's more, Finkel said, the callers misstated Mrs. Capps' position on Social Security. Voters were told Mrs. Capps wouldn't re-authorize Social Security benefits, when, in fact, she will, Finkel said.

Capps' campaign manager Cathy Duvall, said she planned to file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission after the election.

The Bordonaro campaign said it had done nothing illegal.

"The Bordonaro campaign and an ad hoc affiliate Central Coast Democrats for Honest Representation have been calling voters to inform them about Capps' lberal views on several different issues," said Todd Harris, a Bordonaro spokesman.

Ian Stirton, a spokesman for the Federal Election Commission in Washington, said it was unclear if such activity violates federal law. Some campaigns have made similar calls in the past and gotten away with it, he said.

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