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Harman’s Departure Tees Up First Special

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California Democratic Rep. Jane Harman's retirement will create the cycle's first special election.

Rep. Jane Harman's sudden resignation Monday sets up her coastal Los Angeles-area district to host the first special election of the 2012 cycle.

It took only a few hours for bold-named Democrats to emerge as potential candidates for the 36th district once news broke Monday morning of Harman's decision to leave Congress to run the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The California Democrat's move won't be official until today, but already members of both parties were setting expectations.

"The opportunity for someone to run for a Congressional seat in California is huge because they don't come up very often," said Matt Klink, president of the California-based political consulting firm Cerrell Associates.

A torrent of spending is expected in a multicandidate field that will be the first Congressional race under the state's new top-two primary format. The top two finishers in the all-party primary would advance to the special general election, unless one candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote. The timing isn't set, but the election most likely will take place before summer begins.

In Los Angeles, City Councilwoman Janice Hahn announced Monday afternoon that she is running for the seat, ensuring a top-tier Democrat would enter the race.

It's the second time Hahn has run for Harman's seat, including an unsuccessful bid in 1998 when Harman ran for governor. Harman served from 1992 to 1998, then was re-elected in 2000 after a two-year hiatus.

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen (D) is strongly considering a bid as well. Her candidacy would set up a high-profile special election, with more candidates possibly on the way.

"It's going to be interesting to see what other names come out of woodwork in the next 36 hours," Klink said.

According to the secretary of state's office, the governor must call a special election within 14 days from the date the office is vacated the exact date of which is still unclear. The special would then be held at least 112 days but no more than 126 days from the date the governor calls the special.

There is one caveat, however: If the special can be consolidated with another election, it can be held up to 180 days from when the governor calls it. There are currently no elections being held in that time period, though it is possible Gov. Jerry Brown could call for a special election to extend the state's tax increases on the second Tuesday in June.

Harman's district has been solidly Democratic since the 2002 redistricting, with Harman never winning less than 60 percent of the vote and President Barack Obama carrying it with 64 percent in 2008.

With redistricting later this year, the makeup will likely alter again. The state's independent commission is expected to release district lines by September.

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