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California and the West

Harman Upbeat on Future

Politics: Despite failed gubernatorial bid, she insists she picked the right race. Focus now is on goals for last six months of term.

June 12, 1998|JODI WILGOREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Four days after finishing last in California's gubernatorial primary, Rep. Jane Harman was back in the nation's capital, one of 50,000 people in the Race for the Cure. She finished the 5K run promoting breast cancer awareness in 26 minutes, a full minute better than last year.

An avid runner, Harman says it was daily exercise that got her through her 15-week sprint for the statehouse. And she is not slowing down: With about six months left in Congress, the South Bay Democrat is focusing on bread-and-butter district issues--securing funds to expand the Port of Los Angeles and getting a seat on the panel that will dole out defense dollars.

She also hopes to exploit her heightened political profile to push gender integration in military training.

In her most extensive interview since the election, Harman on Thursday insisted that the failed campaign "was the right race to pick."

"When some doors close, other doors open," Harman said, her two-toned pumps propped on the glass coffee table in her Capitol Hill office. "I'm not foreclosing anything. I think the problem will be how to choose wisely--not too few choices."

She declined to be more specific about what choices she may be making.

In the past week, Harman has received a midnight phone call from President Clinton "to make sure I was OK," and a consoling container of Jerry's Deli matzo ball soup from her staff.

She was feted at an ice cream social by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and has signed up to host a Washington fund-raiser in July for Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, who beat her and businessman Al Checchi to capture the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Friends, contemplating Harman's post-Congress future, have suggested a think tank, a foundation, a Cabinet position, a U.S. Senate bid or a second try at Sacramento.

Harman is thinking shorter-term: daughter Justine's eighth-grade graduation next week, son Guy's driver's license exam at month's end, a 10-day European vacation with husband Sid this summer.

"And we'll talk then about next chapters--plural," Harman said, using a trademark phrase she learned from her mother.

Despite the rigors of the campaign and her poor showing, the three-term lawmaker said she is determined to finish her congressional tenure "with the same energy" she has brought to it since arriving in 1993. She will work to help Democrat Janice Hahn beat Republican Assemblyman Steve Kuykendall to succeed her in the 36th District, and also plans to campaign for Rep. Barbara Keneally, a Democrat running for governor of Connecticut.

"Since I've been there, done that, I hope I can be helpful to her," Harman said. "I've spent six years campaigning full-time. There is a sense of relief. I'm off the fund-raising treadmill--which is a relief to me and a relief to those at the receiving end.

"I never expected to be around here for my whole life," she added. "I've now done a voluntary term limit."

While Checchi blamed his loss on the booming economy and voters' confidence in the status quo, Harman cited timing. She said she peaked too early, earning Checchi's ire by gaining popularity immediately upon airing introductory television ads early in the year. And she was too slow to speak with savvy on key state issues.

"In a political campaign, you can't control all the timing," she said. "We had 3 1/2 months to do everything right. We did most things right."

Harman said the statewide bid challenged her physically--she traveled about 200,000 miles up and down the Golden State and back and forth to Congress--as well as intellectually and emotionally.

Maintaining the brisk pace, she heads to Los Angeles today at 6 a.m. for a day of district meetings, then to San Francisco on Saturday to see her father, who suffered a stroke during her campaign.

A red-eye flight will land her back in Washington on Sunday for a day with the kids.

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