Democrat Janice Hahn defeated Republican Craig Huey in a bitter contest for a Southern California House seat Tuesday, preserving the party's hold on the district and surviving an unusually tough race in a Democratic stronghold.
With 100 precincts reporting, Hahn, a Los Angeles city councilwoman, had 41,585 votes, or about 55 percent, to 34,636, or about 45 percent, for Huey. Huey's campaign had Tea Party backing.
The campaign was being closely watched by both major parties as a sign of whether normally safe Democratic seats have been left vulnerable by the persistent economic slump.
With a light turnout and widespread voter anxiety over the economy, Republicans were hoping for an upset that would send a message heading toward the 2012 national elections, in which President Barack Obama will seek a second term.
But Hahn's victory was far from impressive, given an 18-point Democratic registration edge in the 36th Congressional District, which runs from the famous Venice boardwalk through the beach communities south of Los Angeles International Airport.
In May, Democrats snatched a New York congressional seat in a heavily Republican district after capitalizing on fears over a Republican plan to roll back Medicare and Social Security benefits.
That made the GOP eager to turn the tables in California, a reliably Democratic state in national elections.
The seat was previously held by Democratic Rep. Jane Harman, who resigned earlier this year to head a Washington think tank.
Harman served nine terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was a leading congressional voice on national security issues.
The race presented a stark choice.
Huey, 61, is a conservative who wanted to slash spending, taxes and debt and roll back government regulation; Hahn, 59, is a fixture in local Democratic politics who wants to see the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the growth of alternative energy.
Huey owns marketing and advertising companies and largely bankrolled his campaign with nearly $900,000 in personal funds. Hahn's brother James once served as Los Angeles mayor.
The midsummer contest received little attention at a time of year when voters are thinking about weekends at the beach, the struggling Los Angeles Dodgers or how to survive the partial closure this weekend of Interstate 405, one of the region's main traffic arteries.
Hahn will have to stand for reelection in a newly redrawn district in November 2012.