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CAMPAIGN 2000: ON THE RAZOR'S EDGE

Candidates in Key House Races Make Final Push

Elections: Incumbents Rogan and Kuykendall rush back from Capitol for last weekend of campaigning against Schiff and Harman.

November 05, 2000|JEAN MERL and PATRICK MCGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Back home at last from a stalemated Washington, Republican Reps. James E. Rogan of Glendale and Steven T. Kuykendall of Rancho Palos Verdes--facing strong Democratic challenges in two of the nation's most-watched House races--hit the campaign trail at warp speed Saturday.

Their opponents, state Sen. Adam Schiff of Burbank and former Rep. Jane Harman of Rolling Hills, also frenetically worked the districts--the 27th in the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena area and the South Bay's 36th. They continued weeks of full-time campaigning as Tuesday's election nears.

From a Woman of the Year ceremony in Burbank--at which Rogan and Schiff both showed up to honor the winner--to a bicycle rally that started in San Pedro, the four combatants entered the final weekend of the hard-fought contests, whose outcomes will help determine which party controls the House of Representatives.

Despite falling behind in campaigning because of the impasse that kept the House in session into Friday, Rogan said he felt "cautiously optimistic."

"I have never been more happy and at peace in my life, because we have run the best campaign we possibly could and we've gotten our message out to everybody," Rogan said during an interview.

Appearing relaxed in faded bluejeans and a white button-down shirt, Rogan spent much of Saturday giving pep talks to volunteers about to walk precincts and appearing on Armenian television and a conservative national radio show.

Schiff kicked off his day with a get-out-the-vote rally in Pasadena, headlined by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Removing his suit jacket, Schiff stood under an arch of red, white, and blue balloons and denounced the current Congress as a "do nothing right" body too hamstrung to pass important legislation.

"It's time to change the Congress, and that will happen one person at a time," Schiff told the crowd, saying that removing Jim Rogan from office would be the best start.

Kuykendall left Washington on Saturday morning and arrived at his Torrance campaign headquarters straight from Los Angeles International Airport shortly after noon, clearly feeling the day slipping away as he greeted supporters and got ready to walk precincts before heading to an awards dinner for port-related industries.

"You have a chance to be part of a historic weekend," Kuykendall, wearing a blue plaid shirt and a USS Enterprise baseball cap, told about 100 volunteers who briefly interrupted their day of phone calling and precinct walking to welcome him home. He was alluding to the possibility that Republicans could wind up controlling both houses of Congress and the White House for the first time in nearly half a century.

Both district contests figure heavily in the Democrats' push to gain the seven seats they need to win back the House majority. The race in the 27th District has attracted more national attention--and may well set a record for spending in a House race--because of Rogan's leading role in President Clinton's impeachment trial last year.

Walking precincts in a pleasant neighborhood a few blocks from his campaign headquarters Saturday afternoon, Kuykendall kept his pitch short and pithy:

"I'm your congressman. I ask for your vote Tuesday. Here's a brochure that tells about me and here is a list of some of my key supporters," he told each voter who happened to be at home.

Then, producing a blue plastic bag clip imprinted with "Kuykendall for Congress," he added, "And here's something to keep your chips fresh,' before moving on to the next house.

By the time Kuykendall hit the pavement, Harman's "Bike the Beach" get-out-the-vote swing from San Pedro to Venice had been underway for hours.

"I got the bike gears down, but I can't figure out how to win this election," joked Harman as she and her entourage pulled into a Palos Verdes Peninsula shopping center parking lot to greet supporters on her way to rallies along the beachside bicycle path. She had traded her tailored suits for black bike shorts and a safety helmet.

Harman criticized Kuykendall for his latest round of television ads, which imply she was bored and uninterested when she represented the district from 1992 through 1998. She gave up the seat to run for governor.

"That's what you do when you don't want to address issues," said Harman, playing to her theme that Kuykendall and the Republican House leaders are out of step with voters on such issues as health care reform and education.

The campaigns have been largely waged through blitzes of political mailings and radio and television spots. But when it comes to old-fashioned face time with voters--an important factor in such close races--Rogan and Kuykendall have a lot to make up.

Take Friday, for instance. While Rogan was winging his way west, Schiff was making campaign phone calls and walking precincts near his Burbank home.

While Kuykendall was trying to find a flight home, Harman was participating in a POW-MIA flag-raising ceremony at the Lomita Post Office. It gave her a chance to tell voters how she, as a congresswoman, had sponsored legislation requiring federal offices to fly the flag in honor of missing soldiers on patriotic holidays.

Most independent political analysts are giving the edge to Schiff in a district that has increasingly voted Democratic in recent years and where Democrats outnumber Republicans 42%-37%.

But the Kuykendall-Harman race is considered too close to call, and both sides are fighting hard for each vote in a district where registration is nearly evenly divided.

Harman, for example, courted Latinos with a bilingual mailer and precinct walks in Venice, San Pedro and Lawndale, even though Latinos make up just 12% of the population in the largely white, suburban 36th District.

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