Although Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) will not be leaving office until Feb. 28, the race to see who succeeds her in Congress has begun in earnest.
The 36th Congressional District, which includes, Venice, Mar Vista and Marina del Rey along with the South Bay, is an economically diverse district which Harman has represented for nine terms. Technology, aerospace and defense firms, and two airports are important economic interests and constituents, as are environmentalists, small business owners and slow growth advocates.
These are some of the constituencies that candidates who seek to replace Harman will have to pay attention to if they hope to win the congressional seat in a June special election.
“All of the candidates will be talking about jobs, the budget and the economy,” said Edgar Saenz, a Westchester resident and a former field deputy for Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Westchester).
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn announced her intentions to run for Harman’s seat shortly after it became known that the congresswoman would be resigning earlier this month.
The councilwoman, who is the daughter of former county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn and the sister of former Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, has racked up a slew of endorsements from labor officials as well as lawmakers at the municipal, state and national level.
“Having the support of so many influential leaders and groups has given me the energy and momentum that I need to win this race,” Hahn said.
Secretary of State Debra Bowen entered the race Feb. 15, and several political insiders believe that the contest will essentially become a Hahn vs. Bowen race.
Bowen, who lives in Marina del Rey, represented the area in the 53rd Assembly District and also served in the state Senate for the 28th District, a seat now occupied by Ted Lieu. Voters in the assembly and state senate districts are largely familiar with Bowen, both on the Westside and in the South Bay.
“This was not an easy decision,” Bowen, who was elected to a second four-year term as the state’s chief elections official in November, said in a statement. “I spent the past week discussing a potential run with my family and close friends, and thinking how I can best serve the public.”
Echoing Saenz, both Hahn and Bowen signaled that the economy would be their top priority as the campaign begins in earnest.
“My campaign is about creating new jobs, expanding clean energy technologies, growing the South Bay aerospace industry and ensuring that local small business owners get the help and opportunities they need to flourish in a global economy,” the councilwoman said after she declared her candidacy.
Bowen touched on job creation as well a week after she entered the race.
“If elected to Congress, my top priority will be working to jumpstart our economy. But how do we make sure that happens?” the secretary asked in a Feb. 22 e-mail to her supporters. “Despite what national Republicans in Washington will tell you, the solution to our current deficit problem isn’t to cut vital services and investments in our future.
“The best way to balance the nation’s checkbook is to get our economy moving again through job growth and increased economic activity.”
Veterans advocate Mervin Evans and Marina del Rey businessman Theodore “Ted” Crissel, both Democrats, have also signaled their intentions to contest Bowen and Hahn for Harman’s seat.
On the Republican side, Mattie Fein, a Venice native who lost to Harman in November, is also rumored to be considering entering the special election.
Marcy Winograd, a teacher and peace advocate who challenged Harman in last year’s Democratic primary, is also mulling over another run.
Some political observers believe that Hahn’s early decision to get in the race and secure high-profile endorsements such as Los Angeles Laker turned businessman Earvin “Magic”Johnson, City Councilman Bill Rosendahl and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein give her a distinct edge in the race.
Lieu is the latest to join Hahn’s impressive roster of supporters.
“Having served in local office for 10 years, Janice Hahn truly grasps the issues facing the people of the 36th Congressional District,” said the newly elected state senator. “I have worked with Janice on many issues and she has proven to be a fighter for the people she represents. I know she will continue to fight for us in Washington.”
Political consultant Jim Kennedy isn’t so sure that the high-profile support will ultimately translate into a victory for Hahn.
“Debra Bowen will get two shots at this race while Janice Hahn will only get one,” Kennedy, who has worked for several local and state area lawmakers, predicted. “What I mean by that is that if Bowen and Hahn both are in the top two (positions on election day), then the order will matter.”
Kennedy was referring to the state’s new election law passed last year that in effect eliminates political party primaries. If one candidate does not obtain 50 percent or higher on election night, the candidates with the two highest vote totals will proceed to a runoff in the general election.
“If Bowen is on top, Hahn will not be able to sustain a rematch from June to August for the general election. So the burden of being two for two is on Hahn,” Kennedy said.
Saenz thinks the race may hinge on who has the resources to reach the most voters and turn out the vote. “It’s going to come down to whose machine is more effective,” said Saenz, referring to each candidate’s political operation. “I think Hahn is the better fundraiser, and that’s going to be very important.”
Kennedy doesn’t think the bevy of endorsements that the councilwoman has lined up will be a deciding factor.
“Many of Hahn’s endorsements are in name only, and many of these people need her council vote for projects and funding in the City Council,” the political consultant said. “Bowen does not currently control purse strings, so this is an unfortunate case of realpolitik.”
Winograd is staking out a cautious approach before deciding if she will run again.
“I am exploring the possibility,” Winograd wrote on the Daily Kos website earlier this month.
Kennedy feels Winograd is a darkhorse in the race, comparing her to a former presidential candidate who was at one time the nation’s preeminent consumer advocate but a failed politician.
“Marcy Winograd is our Ralph Nadar. Nadar is a hero for what he did to promote consumer safety issues, but his political campaigning has neither won him friends or promoted the very issues he wishes to serve,” Kennedy recalled.
Both Kennedy and Saenz think the race will go to the general election.
“I think that’s very likely,” Saenz said.
In an interview with reporters Feb. 10, Harman stated repeatedly that she will not endorse any of the candidates in the special election.