In the final days leading up to the 36th Congressional District special election, the race between Democrat Janice Hahn and Republican Craig Huey has taken a decidedly negative turn as the candidates make their final push for undecided voters and to solidify their prospective bases.
Huey, a South Bay businessman who owns a direct marketing firm, must turn out his base of largely conservative supporters and wrest away votes from Hahn in a primarily Democratic district in order to win the congressional seat, respected political observers believe.
The district, which includes Mar Vista, Venice, portions of Marina del Rey and the coastal cities of the South Bay, leans Democratic, with a 45 percent registration base to 27 percent Republican.
Hahn, a Los Angeles city councilwoman, also has to maintain her core supporters while not losing any to overconfidence or a lack of interest in the campaign, political observers say.
Loyola Marymount University political science professor Richard Fox, an expert on congressional races, believes the winner of the race will depend on who gets their core supporters to the polls. “In a race with low turnout, which is expected, your base will play a determining factor in who wins the election,” Fox said.
Allan Hoffenblum, a political consultant who publishes the California Target Book, concurs that voter turnout is crucial in an off-year election and especially for this one, which happens to be a summertime special election.
“The only people who are going to vote are those who have made up their minds and who are motivated to participate,” Hoffenblum, a former Republican strategist, told The Argonaut.
Huey has campaigned primarily in the South Bay, where his base of more conservative voters reside. At the end of last month, his campaign began distributing literature in Venice and Mar Vista for the first time since his May 17 upset of Secretary of State and Democrat Debra Bowen.
Hoffenblum said Huey has done a good job motivating his base of supporters. “There is no doubt that he has the money and the organization and is tapping into the ‘tea party’ crowd,” he said.
Hoffenblum is not surprised that the Republican candidate has not campaigned heavily in the more liberal Venice and Mar Vista communities. “His campaign is based on ideology, not territory,” the political consultant noted.
Fox said the numbers are not in Huey’s favor, so a series of unexpected events would have to occur for him to best Hahn. “This is a Democratic district, so something dramatic has to happen in order to win,” the LMU professor said.
The tenor of the race has become increasingly acrimonious as the campaign heads into its final days and both contenders have filed complaints with the Federal Elections Commission. Huey’s complaint pertains to a series of automated or “robo calls” made by the Hahn campaign, and Hahn’s is about a controversial video that has been denounced by Democrats and some Republicans for its content.
The robo calls accuse Huey of wanting to privatize Social Security and end Medicare, and according to the complaint, the mandated requirement of publicly identifying who paid for the calls is not included in the messages.
Hahn paid a $500 fine in 2009 after a complaint was filed by the city’s Ethics Commission for not providing a script for calls made supporting the councilwoman’s reelection.
The online video, which the Hahn campaign says has ties to a Huey vendor, depicts the councilwoman as a stripper and has African-American men dressed as gang members singing. It is based on a debunked news report that claimed that Hahn steered public funds to gang members.
Politifact and Factcheck.org have both rated the story and the video as false, and Huey and other Republicans have publicly criticized the video produced by Turn Right USA, a right-wing “super” political action committee.
Turn Right USA’s treasurer Claude Todoroff has also been quoted in other publications denouncing the video and saying he knew nothing of its contents. Todoroff, a Torrance certified public accountant, could not be reached for comment.
Hahn’s campaign has asked the FEC to investigate any collaboration between Turn Right USA and the Huey campaign. By law, political action organizations must act independently of a candidate’s campaign.
“Craig Huey needs to come clean about his connections to the outrageously racist and sexist attack ad released on his behalf, and possibly at his behest. These disturbing revelations require a full federal investigation into the Huey campaign’s coordination efforts with this ‘supposed independent’ expenditure,” said David Jacobson, Hahn’s campaign manager.
Fox said the video could inspire Democrats who might not be as enthusiastic about Hahn’s candidacy to vote for her. “The thing about this negative stuff is that it could energize Democrats who supported Bowen to become Hahn supporters,” he said.
The Hahn campaign is also hammering away with a television ad that claims Huey helped one of his business clients bilk seniors out of their money using false Alzheimer’s disease cures and investment schemes.
Huey supporters include Republican Nathan Mintz, who ran for the state Assembly last year against Betsy Butler. Mintz said it is essential for Huey to turn out nearly every Republican in the district if he is to be victorious. “In a special election, the most important thing is to make sure that you turn out your base of supporters,” he said.
Huey campaign manager James Camp said his candidate has the message that voters of the 36th Congressional District want to hear.
“Across party lines, people are worried about the economy and jobs,” Camp said in an interview with The Argonaut last month. “We’ve been focusing on the economy and on the deficit, and that’s what voters want their elected officials to focus on.”
Since her announcement that she would be seeking to replace former Rep. Jane Harman in February, Hahn has compiled a list of endorsements from local, state and national officeholders, as well as environmental organizations and organized labor.
One endorsement that came from a former politician is one that many Democrats have sought since he left office in 2000. Former President Bill Clinton threw his support to Hahn June 13, calling “right-wing extremism” wrong for the country.
“America is at a crossroads,” said President Clinton, “and we need to decide whether we are going to pursue a path of right-wing extremism or one of compromise and common sense solutions.
“Janice has proven herself to be a champion for creating jobs, cleaning our environment, protecting a woman’s right to choose, and expanding access to health care. We need people like Janice Hahn in Congress, and I’m proud to endorse her,” the former president added.
Hahn touts her experience in public office as a contrast to what she calls Huey’s “questionable” business practices, as well as creating green jobs and protecting the environment.
Hahn said one of the things that she has heard as she ventures out among the electorate is that voters want someone who will fight for them against large corporations, and they also want Social Security protected.
“My opponent wants to end that promise that we have made with our seniors, and that shows how out of step he is with the district,” the councilwoman said.
Huey’s campaign agreed to an interview with The Argonaut June 15 and cancelled the interview the next day.
Despite the acrimony of the campaign, it will come down to who gets their supporters to the polls, said Hoffenblum.
“In a low turnout election, that is when an upset can happen,” he cautioned. If Hahn loses, “It will be a huge embarrassment for the Democratic Party,” he added.
The candidates will meet in their only debate Thursday, July 7 on KPCC -FM 89.3 at 10:30 a.m.
The election will be held Tuesday, July 12.