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Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn (D) maintained a comfortable lead early Wednesday morning in the surprisingly competitive special election for California’s 36th district.
With 49 percent of precincts counted as of 2 a.m., Hahn had 56.8 percent of the vote, compared with 43.2 percent for Republican small-businessman Craig Huey, who outperformed expectations by just making it to the runoff in the solidly Democratic district.
Despite late signs that the race was tightening and questions about the strength of the Democratic turnout in a midsummer, off-year election, Hahn was expected to win the coastal Los Angeles County district.
The vacancy was created in early February, when longtime Rep. Jane Harman (D) resigned to become head of a Washington-based think tank. Harman called Hahn the morning of her resignation, and Hahn was in the race by noon.
This was the state’s first test in a Congressional race of its new “jungle” primary, in which the top two performing candidates from any party advance to a runoff. Hahn and California Secretary of State Debra Bowen (D) were favored to advance past the May 17 primary, but Bowen split the liberal vote with other Democrats, and Huey built a conservative coalition of support big enough to squeak past her.
The 36th district hugs the Pacific Ocean in southern Los Angeles County. It runs from Venice Beach at the northern end, into the South Bay past Los Angeles International Airport, through the Beach Cities and inland to the population heart of Torrance, and south to San Pedro.
President Barack Obama carried it in 2008 by 30 points, but the state’s first independent redistricting process is expected to make it more viable for Republicans, as it was in the 1990s.