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Harman Gave Hahn an Early Start

Kyle Trygstad/Roll Call
California special election candidate Janice Hahn (left) gets a stern warning against campaigning at the farmers market. Hahn, a Democrat running in the 36th district, was strolling through with the town’s mayor pro tem, who had just endorsed her.

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Jane Harman, whose resignation from Congress became official Monday, was courting a candidate to replace her two weeks before announcing she was leaving Capitol Hill. She won’t officially endorse, but it’s clear she prefers Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, the woman she refers to as her little sister.

As the world watched President Barack Obama deliver his State of the Union address Jan. 25, Hahn was Harman’s guest in the House chamber.

Hahn told Roll Call during an interview at a local sushi restaurant that Harman had asked her that week about her future political plans and whether she would ever be interested in running for Harman’s 36th district seat.

“I said, ‘Of course it would be wonderful to be in Congress, but you’re not going anywhere.’ And so she just nodded,” Hahn said between sips of hot tea. “Then that early 7 a.m. call came two weeks later, and she said, ‘I’m resigning and I want you to run for my seat.’ And I had my website up by noon.”

Hahn knew she had to work fast, as California House seats rarely come open — especially one that includes as much beach area as Harman’s. Hahn had a campaign team of well-known consultants in place by the close of business that day.

A week later, she had earned the endorsements of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and state Speaker John Perez, as well as a slew of local labor unions and elected officials. The quick endorsements smack of her first attempt to win the seat in 1998. Harman, who was running for governor, urged her to run that time, too, joining President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, who were all concerned about keeping the district for Democrats.

Minutes before her Thursday interview with Roll Call, Hahn secured the endorsement of El Segundo Mayor Pro Tem Bill Fisher and strolled with him through the local farmers market, which is held nearly every day of the week in a different city in the district.

Until 2012, when California’s independent redistricting commission will redraw the districts, this coastal district — which stretches from Venice Beach south along the Los Angeles County coast — leans Democratic. Neither of the national parties is expected to spend money on the race.

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