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It's Over

Less than an eyelash short of an upset marathon victory. Hannah-Beth Jackson reluctantly conceded defeat in the race for the 19th state senate district seat, more than three weeks after Election Day.

"We really thought we could win this," Jackson told me as she took a break from fixing Thanksgiving dinner for 10. "But I'm going to try to stay involved. I really feel like I have something to offer."

The Democrat's loss means that Republican Tony Strickland will be on hand in Sacramento next week to take the oath of office with other newly elected state lawmakers. In the Legislature, Strickland will join his wife, Audra, who represents Ventura County in the 37th Assembly district, in forming one of the Capitol's new power couples.

In the end, Jackson could not have come much closer in her bid to wrest away a senate seat tailor-made for a Republican; with only a few hundred votes left to be counted, Strickland holds a 903-vote lead out of about 415,000 cast in the sprawling district, which includes parts of Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

Jackson led by 103-votes on Election Day, and she and Strickland both endured 23 days of roller coaster emotions, as momentum see-sawed back and forth with each update of new numbers from the three counties.

When the deal went down, Strickland's margin of victory came in the southern tip of the district, a small but dense pocket of conservative votes roped in to protect the incumbency of outgoing GOP senator Tom McClintock in the legislature's 2001 gerryman, er, um, reapportionment. Such creative expressions of political cartography are expected to wane now that voters have passed Proposition 11, a redistricting reform initiative aimed at ending the blatant, once-a-decade conflict of interest in which incumbent lawmakers draw their own district maps to account for the new U.S. Census.

"Every time we got good news (in the vote count) from Santa Barbara or Ventura," Jackson said of the tension of the last three weeks, "L.A. would check in with their little portion and push us back down again." While Jackson beat Strickland in the combined Santa Barbara-Ventura portion of the 19th, the Republican dominated in L.A., finishing about 5,000 votes ahead in an area that represents only about seven percent of the district's population.

Jackson sounded weary but unrelentingly upbeat in saying she has not yet had time to reflect on anything she might have done differently in the campaign to make up the exquisitely tiny difference between victory and defeat. Besides the GOP tilt of the seat, she cited unexpectedly high turnout in favor of Prop. 8 (she opposed the anti-gay marriage measure while Strickland supported it); the Republican's $2 million fundraising advantage (he spent about $6 million to her $4 million); and the consistently negative tone of the campaign as key factors.

"People hate negative campaigns,but unfortunately they work," she said. "It wasn't the way I wanted to run, but in the end it devolved into this incredible number of attack mailers."

Props to the indefatigable Craig Smith for getting the scoop on Jackson's concession in his blog this morning; for more on the finish of the race, check out the Ventura County Star, which has a complete report here.

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