SAN FRANCISCO Representative Pete Stark, the cantankerous dean of California's congressional delegation, appeared to lose his bid for a 21st straight term after being swept aside by a fellow Democrat 50 years his junior.
With 62.5 percent of precincts partially reporting, Eric Swalwell, a 31-year-old local prosecutor, led 54 to 46 percent Tuesday night over Stark, 80, in California's new 15th congressional district. The district was drawn during the 2010 redistricting process but overlapped heavily with the swath of the Bay Area that re-elected Stark by wide margins for four decades.
"The voters were very hungry for someone who will show up and work hard for them," said Swalwell, a Dublin City councilman and Alameda County prosecutor, who claimed victory shortly before midnight. "They realized they deserve better."
Under new California election rules, the top two finishers in the primary go head-to-head in the general election regardless of party affiliation.
For the incumbent, the result was a reversal that carried a certain sense of symmetry. Known as a young "hippie" banker on the campaign trail in 1973, Stark arrived in Washington after toppling entrenched Representative George P. Miller, who at age 81 was himself the longest-serving congressman from California.
Over the years, Stark cemented his reputation as a liberal firebrand, arguing vociferously against the Iraq War and the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, the $700 billion rescue package for investment banks. But he was perhaps best known for his relentless push for nationalized healthcare, and he played a minor role in writing the Affordable Care Act of 2010. He was also known as the only openly atheist elected official on Capitol Hill.
But critics accused the outspoken congressman of garnering more headlines for impolitic outbursts than for carrying through on significant legislation.
In 1990, Stark memorably called Louis Sullivan, a black member of George H.W. Bush's Cabinet, a "disgrace to his own race" after Sullivan opposed federally sponsored national health care.
Stark's campaign manager did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting By Gerry Shih; Editing by Ciro Scotti)