Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Election Tomorrow in California’s 36th CD

In House on July 11, 2011 at 9:14 am

California's 36th CD (govtrack.us)

On Feb. 8, Rep. Jane Harman (D) announced that she would resign her seat in the House of Representatives in order to become the president of a foreign affairs think tank. Tomorrow, her congressional replacement will finally be chosen. In what was predicted to be a walk in the park for Democrats because of the district’s historical voting pattern, the race has instead become close. Although Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn (D) should win, Republican businessman Craig Huey appears to be positioned to score an upset victory. Even if he loses, Mr. Huey may still be in play for the November 2012 election, however, as the proposed redistricting changes will make the seat more competitive.

When California changed their primary law to allow the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, to qualify for the general election, the 36th district, a seat that gave President Obama 64 percent of its votes in 2008 and saw only one major Republican candidate get even 40 percent (President George W. Bush in 2004), was predicted to send two Democrats into the second election. Secretary of State Debra Bowen (D), who represented most of this South Bay coastal region in the state Assembly and Senate before winning statewide, and Councilwoman Hahn were the favorites to advance to the special general election. When the primary votes were counted in late May, however, Craig Huey had slipped past Bowen and found himself winning the right to challenge Hahn.

For her part, Ms. Hahn — whose father, the late Kenneth Hahn, was the long-time Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors chairman, and whose brother Jim was a one-term mayor of Los Angeles — is not a particularly strong candidate. She has twice lost bids for higher office, the 36th CD back in 1998 after Ms. Harman had vacated for an unsuccessful run for governor, and a 2010 Democratic primary race for lieutenant governor. Now, embroiled in controversy over her support for a highly suspect program that pays gang members and ex-convicts to act as gang interventionists, Hahn has become locked in a battle with an unknown Republican opponent in a campaign that she should win easily.

The current 36th district is highly Democratic. The new district, should the draft redistricting map be enacted into law, will encompass Palos Verdes Republican voters who previously were melded into another district. The new seat would still lean Democratic but will be much more competitive.

There have been no recently released polls for this campaign. Hahn has been conducting internal surveys but refuses to publicize the results, another indication that the race is trending much closer than one would expect. On the money front, Hahn has raised $1.1 million, while Huey banked $840,000 according to late June public disclosure financial reports. All of Hahn’s funding is from sources other than herself, including almost $300,000 from PACs and party donations, while almost $700,000 of Huey’s grand total is self-contributed.

Regardless of the outcome tomorrow, the real race in this southwestern LA County region will occur next year in the regular election. For the first time in more than two decades, several California congressional seats will enter the competitive ranks, and this particular district is likely to be among them.
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