This may be Jane Harman's first run for public office, but she is not a political neophyte. Neither are her kids.
"Vote Reginomicks, NOT!!" advises a red, white and blue cartoon face of Ronald Reagan that her 10-year-old son, Dan, made for her campaign office.
The boy's attitude is not surprising, considering that his mom was deputy secretary to the Cabinet in the Carter White House, and that his dad--Sidney Harman--served as undersecretary of commerce under Carter.
Harman's Democratic pedigree--featuring nearly two decades of work for the party in both the public and private sectors--gives her entree to some of the most powerful Democrats inside the Washington Beltway.
But as Harman, 47, reaches the homestretch in her race for the 36th Congressional District seat, she is fighting to convince coastal South Bay and Westside communities that her heart remains closer to them than to Capitol Hill.
"If elected to Congress, Jane Harman will represent the Washington D.C. insiders . . . NOT US!" declares a campaign mailer sent out by her Republican opponent, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores.
Sporting Harman's resume--and headlined "The Career of a Washington D.C. Insider,"--the mailer raps Harman for her 22 years of public- and private-sector jobs inside the Washington Beltway. Also included in the mailer are reproductions of Harman's District of Columbia voter registration card and the 1993 property tax bill for her $1.8-million District of Columbia home.
Harman and her supporters say the carpetbagging label won't stick because she was raised in West Los Angeles and has maintained business and personal ties to the area, periodically renting homes and at one point owning a vacation house in Los Angeles County.
"My background and experience and skills are much closer to those of the voters of the 36th District than are those of Joan Flores," Harman said. "I understand this district and its needs and I have the knowledge of the Washington system to know how to meet those needs."
Born in New York, Harman was 4 when her physician father relocated his medical practice to Culver City and moved his family to West Los Angeles. Following her graduation from University High School in 1962, Harman earned a degree at Smith College in Massachusetts and then a law degree at Harvard Law School.
She passed the District of Columbia bar and soon joined the staff of former California Sen. John Tunney, through whom she became chief counsel and staff director of two subcommittees of the Senate Judiciary Committee. She won her White House post in 1977.
It was a heady time of transition at the start of the Carter Administration. Harman's duties included helping to coordinate and execute White House domestic policy, which brought her in contact with most of the important Democratic leaders of the day.
"Jane brought a lot of energy and intelligence and skill to the process," said Jack H. Watson Jr., who as secretary to the Cabinet recruited Harman for the post. "She relishes the political process. She's a good negotiator because she really enjoys the give-and-take of what in the private sector would be called deal-making and in the political sector is putting together coalitions and consensus."
Even now, 14 years after she left her White House position, Harman remains extremely well-connected to the intricate processes that rule Capitol Hill, Watson said.
"She would be a formidable congresswoman," he said. "She is irrepressible, like an irresistible force."
A 1978 divorce cut short her White House tenure, Harman said, because she wanted to resign and devote more time to her two young children.
A year later, she returned to the Washington political scene as a special counsel to the Department of Defense. Roughly a year after that, she moved to a private Washington law firm, but her party connections continued.
In 1984, she served as counsel to the Democratic convention's platform committee, in 1987 she co-chaired a $2.2-million Democratic Party fund-raiser, and from 1986 to 1990 she chaired the National Lawyers' Council, which acts as a legal network for the Democratic Party.
Her campaign finance filings show that party ties have served her well. The statements include contributions from such party luminaries as former President Carter, former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, former Sen. Tunney and former Democratic National Chairman Charles Manatt.
Her strong support for abortion rights also has brought in scores of donations, including dozens of individual contributions from members of EMILY's List, a national group that coordinates donations to Democratic women candidates who favor abortion rights.
Harman, who like Flores has so far spent about $600,000 campaigning this year, loaned herself nearly $250,000 to get her primary campaign rolling.