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ANALYSIS : Westside Proving Tough for GOP to Crack : Politics: The new decade will bring reapportionment. But experts say it's unlikely that even a redrawing of political boundaries will topple the Democrats.

January 21, 1990|JEFFREY L. RABIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Welcome to 1990, the year of the incumbent.

The calendar shows an election this year for state and federal offices, but on the Westside this has not set pulses racing.

The area's representatives in Congress and the Legislature, Democrats all, are assured of reelection in their carefully crafted, politically safe districts. About all each one needs to do is keep breathing and avoid a major scandal.

It's a one-party system.

But the coming of a new decade will also bring reapportionment, the constitutionally mandated, slightly unseemly process of redrawing political boundaries to adjust for population changes.

Reapportionment can strike terror in a politician's heart. Job security is at stake. Power can be won or lost by a simple shift in a district boundary.

Might the redistricting of the 1990s resurrect the two-party system in at least parts of the Westside? Not very likely, say the experts.

"The Westside is to the Democratic Party what Orange County is to the Republican Party," says Allan Hoffenblum, a veteran GOP political consultant. The area, he says, "will always be heavily Democratic, barring some extraordinary circumstance."

Much of the Westside is heavily white, Democratic and liberal, with the largest concentration of Jewish voters outside of New York. In many neighborhoods, Democrats outnumber Republicans by 2 to 1.

UC Berkeley political scientist Bruce Cain, who has written extensively about redistricting, says the Westside is all but impossible for Republicans to crack, no matter how the lines are drawn. There just aren't enough Republicans.

"There is no way you are going to take the area south of the Ventura Freeway, the really Jewish areas of the Westside--take Santa Monica, Venice, areas around Beverly Hills--no way you're going to transform these into competitive areas," he said.

Michael Berman, a top Democratic political strategist, reapportionment expert and brother of Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City), says simply: "West Los Angeles is solidly Democratic turf."

The Westside serves as the political base for the powerful Democratic campaign organization headed by Reps. Berman and Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles). Altogether, five Democratic congressman share a piece of this choice political real estate.

But adjoining areas have a different political makeup.

Los Angeles is sharply divided politically, socially and economically. There is Democratic territory, Republican territory and occasional patches of competitive ground where the loyalty of voters is up for grabs.

Republicans dominate the upper-income communities that hug the coast from Pacific Palisades to Malibu and Manhattan Beach to Palos Verdes.

The northwestern and northeastern reaches of the San Fernando Valley also are increasingly GOP territory.

Mix together Westside Democratic strongholds and suburban Republican precincts in the same district and the chance for political competition increases, particularly if there is an open seat.

One potentially competitive district is that of Rep. Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica). His 27th Congressional District stretches from the edge of Topanga Canyon through Santa Monica, West Los Angeles, Mar Vista, Venice, Marina del Rey and Playa del Rey before jutting inland to reach black Democratic voters in Inglewood. The district line then heads south into the more Republican and conservative South Bay beach cities and Torrance. A finger reaches all the way down to Terminal Island. The district is 54% Democratic in registration.

Another district that might someday be a battleground lies to the north and east of Levine's territory. The 23rd Congressional District of Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Los Angeles) includes Westwood, Beverly Hills, Century City, Brentwood, Bel-Air and Malibu, as well as the San Fernando Valley communities of Reseda, Tarzana, Woodland Hills, Canoga Park and Encino. Democrats make up 53% of the registered voters.

Rapid population growth in outlying areas of the state during the 1980s may force the boundary lines of the Levine and Beilenson districts to stretch farther from the solidly Democratic precincts of the Westside into more risky Republican territory.

"It's possible a redistricting could make one or possibly two of these people uncomfortable," Cain said.

If Levine, who is regarded as a potential challenger to U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston in 1992, vacates his seat, the district would be competitive, Cain said.

Beilenson's district, likewise, "under the right circumstances, could be won by a Republican," adds Hoffenblum.

But as long as Beilenson and Levine stay put, change is unlikely because of the built-in advantages they have over challengers in fund raising, staffing and the ability to attract media attention and to communicate with voters. "Incumbency is the most powerful force in America right now," Cain said.

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