Wendy Greuel

Congressional candidate Wendy Greuel meets voters at the Farmers Market on Fairfax Avenue. She was one of several Democrats in a contentious race for Rep. Henry A. Waxman’s seat in the 33 District. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times / January 21, 2014)

Two of Southern California's hottest congressional races were too close to call late Tuesday and may not be decided for days, incomplete election night returns showed.

Gang prosecutor Elan Carr, a Republican, narrowly led the pack in the crowded field for an open, strongly Democratic Westside/South Bay seat. State Sen. Ted Lieu of Torrance and former Los Angeles controller Wendy Greuel, both Democrats, were battling for the second spot on November ballot. Spiritual teacher and best-selling author Marianne Williamson, an independent, and radio host Matt Miller, a Democrat, trailed Lieu and Greuel.

Contenders for an open Inland Empire seat were bunched closely together in incomplete returns.

Military veteran Paul Chabot, a Republican, was holding on to first place, with Redlands' Democratic Mayor Pete Aguilar in second.

Following a few votes behind were Colton attorney Eloise Gomez Reyes, a Democrat, and congressional aide Lesli Gooch, a Republican. Former Rep. Joe Baca was running behind but not out of contention.

Observers had predicted close races almost from the start.

These two races, to fill the seats of retiring Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) and Gary G. Miller (R-Rancho Cucamonga), were among roughly a dozen spirited House races in California this primary season.

The seats are among six in the state whose incumbents are packing it in after their current term ends. Other not seeking reelection are Reps. John Campbell (R-Irvine), Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), George Miller (D-Martinez), and Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Chino), who is running for San Bernardino County supervisor.

In the Central Valley and Northern California, there were several same-party fights, at least some of which will continue through the general election. Because of the state's top-two primary system, only the first- and second-place finishers, regardless of party, advance to the fall ballot. Reps. Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove), Michael M. Honda (D-San Jose) and Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) faced rigorous challenges from political comrades in arms.

The biennial, high-stakes battle for control of the House also was manifesting itself in about half a dozen California districts that, due to registration and voting patterns, could switch parties in the fall. Democrats' hopes of recapturing the House majority this year are slim to nonexistent, most elections experts say.

But that won't keep Democrats, who dominate state politics, from fighting to pick up another seat and defending those that could flip. The outlines of the fall battles have been seen for months, especially for seats held by freshmen who wrested them from the other party's hands two years ago.

Vulnerable frosh are Reps. Ami Bera (D-Elk Grove), Julia Brownley (D-Westake Village), Scott Peters (D-San Diego), Raul Ruiz (D-Palm Desert), and David Valadao (R-Hanford).

The two Southern California races that drew the most attention — and spending — were for the seats being vacated by Waxman and Gary Miller.

Waxman's district featured 18 hopefuls on Tuesday's ballot (though two quit the race too late to remove their names), plus one write-in candidate.

The 33rd District, which includes beaches and the Santa Monica Mountains, is one of the wealthiest, most politically active enclaves in the nation. It has big pockets of liberal Democrats who reflect the Waxman's politics and admire his achievements during 40 years in Congress.

He had a leading role in efforts to improve medical care, allow for generic drugs, clean up the air and preserve coastal and mountain environments. He also helped shepherd the Affordable Care Act through the House.

Waxman did not endorse a candidate.

In the closing days of the race, the Miller campaign slammed Greuel and Lieu. In political mailers to voters, he said that Greuel's audits as L.A. controller "were overblown" and that Lieu "targeted Toyota ... because he wanted to score political points."

The giant Japanese automaker announced earlier this year that it would move its Torrance operations to Texas and take thousands of jobs with it.

Greuel's mailers hit Lieu with accusations of taking "junkets paid for by lobbyists, foreign governments and special interests" and tried to tie him to the FBI sting operation that resulted in criminal bribery and corruption charges against state Sen. Ronald S. Calderon (D-Montebello).

Lieu kept his mailers mostly positive but did point out frequently that Greuel had only recently moved into the district.

The race for the Miller seat caused some consternation for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The House Democrats' campaign arm had recruited Aguilar for another try after he and three other Democrats splintered the vote in the 2012 primary. That sent two Republicans to the fall ballot in what is essentially a Democratic district. The committee had hoped to clear the field but saw another four-Democrat fight take shape this year.

Aguilar found himself in a stiff competition with Reyes, who was backed by Emily's List and other women's groups as well as by several Democratic members of California's House delegation. Baca, trying for a political comeback after losing his race in a neighboring district two years ago, raised relatively little money.

But a secretive organization called Cal Voters for Honest Government sent mail and made phone calls and may have been behind billboards touting Baca.

jean.merl@latimes.com