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Oden holds onto hope for win June 8, 2006

Posted by ronodenmedia in In the Media.
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80TH ASSEMBLY: Palm Springs mayor trails by only 253 votes in tight battle for Democratic nomination.

12:01 AM PDT on Thursday, June 8, 2006

By DAVID HERMANN
The Press-Enterprise
PALM SPRINGS – Trailing by 253 votes in his bid to win the Democratic primary in the 80th State Assembly District, Palm Springs Mayor Ron Oden held a news conference on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday to announce that he was not conceding yet.

"With thousands of votes still out, I'm going to wait," Oden said.

Oden and fellow Democrat Steve Clute are vying for the right to take on incumbent Bonnie Garcia, of Cathedral City, in November's general election. Garcia ran unopposed in Tuesday's Republican primary.

Although Election Day is over with Clute the apparent winner, registrars in Riverside and Imperial counties said thousands of provisional and absentee ballots dropped off at polling places Tuesday have yet to be counted.

Rebecca Martine, Riverside County's Chief Deputy Registrar of Voters, said certification of the election results will probably take the entire 28 days allowed by law.

"We will give updates between now and when we certify," Martine said, adding that updated vote totals will be available on the registrar's Web site.

Imperial County's Registrar of Voters, Dolores Provencio, said her county has at least 2,000 ballots left to count. Candidates cannot request a recount until after an election is certified, Provencio said.

On Wednesday, Oden said he does not plan to seek a recount if he loses.

Oden held a 669-vote lead in the Riverside County portion of the district. But Clute led by a wider 922-vote margin in Imperial County.

In between congratulatory calls and television and newspaper interviews on Wednesday, Clute expressed cautious optimism about the race's outcome.

"It may not be totally over yet, but I like my position," he said.

During the campaign, all three candidates cited education, the environment and growth as among the most important issues confronting the 80th Assembly District, which includes all of Imperial County and snakes through eastern Riverside County from Palm Springs to Blythe, avoiding the Republican strongholds of Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert and Indian Wells.

Oden's campaign benefited from more money and a candidate whose name is well known in the Coachella Valley. Oden also boasts some national and statewide name recognition by virtue of his status as Palm Springs's first black and first openly gay mayor.

But Oden's name and fundraising edge apparently did not translate as well in rural, heavily Latino Imperial County where Clute's relied on months of face-to-face campaigning and his record as the region's former assembly representative from 1982 to 1992.

Prior to the election Oden, a former educator and longtime Palm Springs city councilman before becoming mayor in 2003, expressed some concern about the perception that he was a product of the Coachella Valley and unfamiliar with the southeastern portion of the district.

To compensate, Oden tried to spend more time campaigning in Imperial County and promised to acquire a second home there if elected to get a better feel for the area.

Oden labeled Clute a candidate from the past while dubbing himself a representative of the future. Oden emphasized his experience working in nonpartisan city politics and said that would help him work both sides of the aisle in Sacramento, unlike Garcia, whom he claimed has been too partisan.

Clute said his status as a Democrat in a state legislature controlled by Democrats would give him the ability to do more for the 80th District than Republican Garcia

A former U.S. Navy pilot and state assemblyman who works as the head of the nonprofit Children's Spine Foundation in Riverside, Clute was reluctant to criticize Oden, who entered the race months after the former announced his intention to run last year.

Although some campaign watchers criticized the primary battle between Clute and Oden as listless and uninspiring, Clute praised Oden's campaign for making it a competitive race.

"Ron Oden came on hard and tough and made this closer, certainly than I wanted it to be," he said.

At Wednesday's new conference, Oden blamed Clute's lead on a concerted effort by labor unions to defeat the mayor for his controversial council vote in favor of a Wal-Mart Supercenter that recently opened in Palm Springs.

"Somehow this one vote became a litmus test," he said.

Oden said he does not plan to seek a second stint as mayor when his current term expires next year.

"I believe 12 years of one person's voice in local government is enough," he said.

Oden said he would back Clute against Garcia if the current results hold up.

"I ran because I believed I was the only candidate who could win that seat," Oden said. "However if he wins, I'm a Democrat and I will support him."

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