Unlike the multiparty struggle playing out in New York, there was no big money from outside groups pouring into Southern California in advance of today’s special election in the coastal 36th district.
The focus within Los Angeles County since former Rep. Jane Harman (D) announced her resignation in early February remains on two Democrats, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn and California Secretary of State Debra Bowen. Running in the jungle primary open to all parties, both are expected to advance to the July 12 runoff.
Since the chilly night in late February when they spoke to the Beach Cities Democratic Club, Bowen and Hahn have been working to distinguish themselves from each other. They have done the same in countless candidate forums, numerous farmers market visits and endless endorsement announcements.
Even with a dearth of polling to quantify the landscape, they are the unquestionable frontrunners. But hoping to spark some late magic are Democrats Marcy Winograd, an anti-war activist and public school teacher who twice before challenged Harman, and Dan Adler, an entertainment industry executive whose campaign manager is actor Sean Astin.
Among those on the Republican side are Redondo Beach Mayor Mike Gin, self-funding businessman Craig Huey and Redondo Beach City Attorney Michael Webb. All are angling to squeak into second place in the state’s first-ever “top two” primary format in a Congressional race.
A Feldman Group poll commissioned by Bowen last month found her tied with Hahn at 20 percent, with Gin taking 8 percent and Winograd 6 percent. It was the only poll ever released by either campaign.
If Democrats have a problem in this solidly Democratic district, it is that they have two well-financed, well-known and experienced candidates living in the same area and seeking the same seat. Neither was able to corral enough support to win the party’s official endorsement last month, and with 16 candidates in Tuesday’s primary field, neither is likely to take the more than 50 percent necessary to win the seat outright.
But they have been reaching for that goal anyway and, insiders said, privately hoping the other does not make it to the runoff. There is an outside shot for a Republican or lesser-known Democrat to top one of them and advance to the runoff, which would clear a path for the surviving Democrat.
“You always have to be open to the possibility that some Republican has been able to consolidate support and take 25 percent. There is no evidence but that is theoretically possible,” Los Angeles-based Democratic consultant Roy Behr said. But, he added, no matter who advances, “the winner will be a Democrat.”
The district, which is loosely bordered to the east and west by Interstate 405 and the Pacific Ocean, runs down the coastline from Venice, past the picturesque beach cities, and inland to Torrance, the largest city in the district. It also reaches to the south to include the bulk of San Pedro, which, along with Venice, resides within the Los Angeles city limits.
Bowen represented 90 percent of the district over 14 years in the state Legislature and last year was elected statewide for a second term as secretary of state. She is backed by national environmental and liberal groups, including the Sierra Club, the California arm of the League of Conservation Voters and Democracy for America.
She raised $168,000 on ActBlue, the online Democratic fundraising site, which was well more than any other candidate in the race. And she raised a total of $340,000 through April 27, the last reporting date before the primary.
“I’m very pleased with how the campaign has gone,” Bowen told Roll Call. It has centered, she said, on “educating voters, reminding voters about my relationship with them.”
Hahn is backed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) and nearly every neighboring House Democrat. She also received the vast majority of labor endorsements, including the California Labor Federation and the California arms of the Service Employees International Union and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Hahn, whose family has a rich history in Los Angeles politics, had raised more than $420,000 through April 27.
“I’m very anxious and not taking anything for granted,” Hahn told Roll Call on Friday. “I’m just going to work very hard to make sure we’re definitely in the runoff.”
Adler, a former vice president at both Walt Disney Imagineering and Creative Artists Agency, caused a stir in the past week with viral Web videos — including a “Rudy” parody with him and Astin — and the news that he was launching TV ads in the expensive LA media market.
He reached out specifically to minority voters who make up more than half the district’s population and who could help him reach the runoff. “The minority voice needs to be heard,” Adler told Roll Call. “I’m really trying to get people to realize that sitting it out doesn’t help anybody.”
While the odds are against Adler, Winograd, Gin and the rest, Los Angeles County Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman said the election could still offer some unexpected results.
“Tuesday is going to be an exciting evening,” he said. “Keep your eyes open because surprises will abound.”