Battle lines are being drawn in the Democratic duel to replace retiring Rep. Henry A. Waxman in his highly coveted coastal California district.
Former Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel and state Sen. Ted Lieu have staked out the earliest positions as the leading contenders. As the only two Democrats in the race so far, each has scrambled to line up endorsements and divide the congressional delegation.
Nearly two weeks since announcing his retirement, all eyes remain fixated on whether Waxman will endorse a successor in the increasingly heated face-off. The seat in this heavily Democratic district is opening for the first time in four decades, the latest addition to an onslaught of turnover in the state’s aging delegation.
“Waxman’s endorsement would be huge,” said Democratic consultant Parke Skelton, who helped run Rep. Brad Sherman’s 2012 campaign, the most heated of the intraparty contests last cycle. “My instinct is he will stay out of it. ... Ultimately, I think it’s about geography.”
Greuel, who has put together a campaign team with presidential experience, went into last weekend with the support of former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, state Attorney General Kamala Harris and EMILY’s List, which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights. Then Lieu emerged from the weekend with an overwhelming victory at the party’s pre-endorsement conference, a signal that he could receive the state party’s endorsement.
Greuel, a former DreamWorks executive, has also rolled out numerous endorsements from local elected officials and members of Congress, including Golden State Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard and Tony Cárdenas. Lieu has the support of state Speaker John Pérez, as well as Reps. Alan Lowenthal, Karen Bass and Maxine Waters.
Still, local Democratic operatives say no endorsement would prove as valuable as a nod from Waxman himself, whose 40-year reign over the Los Angeles political apparatus gives him immense sway among voters there.
A source close to the outgoing congressman said he has not yet decided whether to endorse. If Waxman doesn’t weigh in, Democratic operatives say the contest is likely to be a chaotic sprint that will come down to the geography of the district, which spans the Los Angeles coastline.
The 33rd District starts on the north along the coastline west of Malibu and stretches east to include the wealthy areas of Calabasas and Beverly Hills. It stretches south to take in Santa Monica and Venice, before straddling the beach west of Los Angeles International Airport, heading to the beach towns of Torrance and Rancho Palos Verdes at the southern tip.