The final days of the campaign for the 36th Congressional District race are here and the 16 candidates vying to replace former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) are making last minute dashes to position themselves for the likelihood of an anticipated runoff due to the sheer volume of challengers.
The district, which has been in Democratic hands for several decades due to its demographic alignment, includes Mar Vista, Venice, parts of Playa del Rey and the northern portion of the South Bay. Democrats outpace Republicans in voter registration, 45 percent to 27.5.
The candidates who have garnered the most endorsements and raised the most money are Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn and Secretary of State Debra Bowen. Marcy Winograd, a Los Angeles Unified School District teacher, has a strong group of dedicated supporters among voters who share her anti-war platform. She has also run for Congress twice, challenging Harman unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary in 2006 and 2010.
The rest of the field varies between a group of South Bay Republicans and lesser-known Democrats. Republicans Patrick “Kit” Bobko, Stephen Eisle, Craig Huey, Michael Gin and Michael Webb have constituencies largely based in the South Bay and have not demonstrated the ability to cut into the margins of Hahn or Bowen on the Westside.
With so many contenders for the May 17 special election, most political observers believe that the race will be decided in the next round.
“It looks to me like there will be a runoff between the candidates with the highest name recognition, Debra Bowen and Janice Hahn,” said Jessica Levinson, the political director for the Center for Government Studies and an adjunct professor at Loyola Law School.
Beach Cities Republican Club President David Hadley is impressed with the Republican candidates in the race, especially, Bobko, Huey and Webb. Huey is a South Bay businessman, Webb is Redondo Beach’s city attorney and Bobko is a Hermosa Beach city councilman.
Hadley feels that the decision by Gov. Jerry Brown to have the special election in May instead of June has prevented the district’s electorate from learning about the platforms of many of the Republican challengers.
“Gov. Brown did not give the district’s voters enough time to get to know many of the candidates,” he asserted. “This is a very expedited election season.”
Harman stunned her constituents in February when she abruptly announced her resignation from Congress, less than three months after winning reelection. She is now the executive director of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.
Brown later announced the special election would take place in May, and Hadley and others believe that it was because the governor did not want the special election to compete with a tax extension measure that he wanted on the June ballot.
Huey made headlines on May 7 when he loaned his campaign $250,000, pushing him past Hahn both and Bowen, who have taken in approximately $424,000 and 338, 000 respectively, as of the April 27campaign filing period.
Gin, the mayor of Redondo Beach, has raised $133,000, Webb, $36,000 and Bobko $53,000.
Huey’s late campaign infusion could help him bring his message to more South Bay and some Westside voters who are unfamiliar with him. But there is one other important ingredient that challengers need in order to win elections, Levinson said.
“Other than raising a lot of money, you have to know how to organize a campaign and have name recognition,” she said. “The political reality is you need name recognition and it’s difficult to win without it.”
The challengers for Harman’ s seat have engaged in a number of candidate forums and personal appearances before a variety of different audiences throughout the district, including one in Venice last month and a May 4 event at Loyola Marymount University.
The Venice event drew approximately 250 people and 12 of the challengers appeared. The LMU forum, sponsored by the LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce, had less than half the turnout and only three candidates, Bowen, Hahn and Gin, were invited to participate.
LAX Coastal Chamber President and CEO Christina Davis said her organization received some complaints from supporters of the uninvited candidates, but chamber representatives felt the audience would have the opportunity to learn more with fewer candidates who would have more time for specific questions.
“I think the format was wonderful, and it was wonderful to hear in depth responses instead of 30-second responses,” Davis said. “As a private organization, we have the luxury of structuring forums in a way that we feel best serves the business community, which is who we represent.”
This will also be the first congressional race with an open primary, a ballot-initiative that became law last year. Both the state Republican and Democratic parties have challenged the new law, but political observers like Levinson think it could eventually lead candidates to be less partisan, as they will be forced to appeal to a much more politically diverse audience.
“All of these reforms are new, so this race will be somewhat of a test case for the open primary law,” Levinson noted. “I think that it will take a few election cycles to see how this plays out, but I believe that (the new law) will draw candidates with more moderate views into political races.”
Hadley says the new election system forces Republican- leaning voters into a situation that they have never faced before in an election primary.
“Voters who tend to vote Republican or are considering voting for a Republican will have two choices: vote for the candidate that they like the most or the one who they think has the best chance of winning,” he said.
The Republican club president said Bowen, Hahn and Winograd have the advantage of name recognition and the district’s demographics favor Democrats in the special election.
West Los Angeles Democratic Party President Alan Blain did not return calls for comment on the special election.
Levinson said the race has played out largely like many political observers thought it would, with the best-known challengers with the most money and endorsements moving to the forefront.
“It’s been very typical in many ways,” she said.
Despite the outcome of the election, Hadley said Republicans can look forward to better electoral times in the future, now that former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican who often clashed with his party’s more conservative members, is no longer in office.
“This is the beginning of the recovery of the Republican Party from the Schwarzenegger hangover,” he asserted. “We can now begin to recover from the devastation that the left on the party.”
Harman has declined to endorse any candidate this far.
“I will remain a member of the Democratic Party and an active voter in this district. But I will not be endorsing anyone in the election,” the former congresswoman told a group of reporters on Feb. 10.
If no candidate garners more than 50 percent of the vote, the runoff will be held approximately 60 days later, on July 12.