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Voter Guide 2000

Southland Races May Help Determine House Control

Attention has focused on contests in the Glendale-Pasadena area, South Bay and San Diego. But Long Beach face-off could be a factor as well.

November 05, 2000|JEAN MERL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the vote counting begins Tuesday in the nation's 435 House of Representatives races, political leaders and independent analysts will focus mainly on the handful of races that are truly competitive and will determine which party controls the House.

Several of those 30 to 40 key races are in California, and two are in Greater Los Angeles--the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena area's ultra-expensive 27th District battle and the South Bay's 36th District contest.

A few other Southern California contests have also sparked interest, both inside and outside their districts, as Democrats seek to add the seven seats they need to regain the House majority they lost six years ago.

In the increasingly Democratic 27th District, which stretches through the northeast suburbs of Los Angeles, from Sunland-Tujunga to San Marino, Rep. James E. Rogan (R-Glendale) is battling a challenge from state Sen. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) in what could well turn out to be the most expensive House race in history. The total tab is expected to reach $10 million to $11 million by election day, not counting spending by independent interest groups on either side that are seeking to influence the outcome.

Rogan's leading role in President Clinton's impeachment trial early last year shot him to national prominence and brought him contributions from conservatives and Clinton critics around the country.

But it also angered Democrats and spurred them to recruit Schiff, a centrist, first-term state senator whose district encompasses the congressional district and who has paid a lot of attention to such local concerns as noise from the busy airport in Burbank and a proposed Long Beach Freeway extension through El Sereno, South Pasadena and part of Pasadena.

In the acrimonious race, voters have been bombarded with political mailings and television and radio ads.

Rogan has tried to portray Schiff as a free-spending liberal and political extremist and launched a "Schiff's scariest positions" blitz, beginning with charges that the Democrat would try "forcing seniors into a government-run HMO."

Schiff has accused Rogan of attempting to hide his conservative views--Rogan is against abortion and opposes most gun controls.

The Schiff campaign also countered attacks by saying Rogan has greatly distorted Schiff's record. For example, Rogan has said repeatedly that Schiff voted to "raise the car tax;" Schiff sent out a mailer telling how he had co-authored the two pieces of state legislation that actually lowered the vehicle registration fees.

The once-Republican stronghold has attracted more minorities and younger voters recently, and Democrats now outnumber Republicans 44% to 37%.

Both sides have wooed the district's large, politically active Armenian American community, whose approximately 23,000 voters are believed to be roughly evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

Also on the ballot are Libertarian Ted Brown and Miriam Hospodar of the Natural Law Party.

In the politically moderate 36th District, running along the coast from Venice to San Pedro, first-term Rep. Steven T. Kuykendall (R-Rancho Palos Verdes) is fighting a challenge from former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman of Rolling Hills. She held the seat from 1992 to 1998, when she gave it up to run, unsuccessfully, for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Both parties and such outside interest groups as the AFL-CIO (for Harman) and the U.S. Chambers of Commerce (for Kuykendall) have been active in the race, believed to be neck and neck.

Harman has campaigned as a middle-of-the-road "New Democrat" who says she can work with both major parties. She says her positions on education, Social Security, HMO reform and Medicare coverage of prescription drugs are more in tune with those of the district than Kuykendall's.

Once heavily dependent on aerospace and defense, the district's economy has diversified to include entertainment and technology jobs. Largely white, suburban and increasingly affluent, district voters tend to be conservative on fiscal issues but liberal on others, favoring abortion rights and supporting gun control, for instance.

Kuykendall also claims the moderate label. His campaign has centered on his 25-year roots in the district and his work as a city councilman and a state assemblyman before going to Congress. He has questioned Harman's dedication to the district, noting that she moved in, in 1991, to run for Congress and then gave up the seat for higher ambitions.

With registration almost evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, both sides are courting the 20% of voters affiliated with neither major party.

Three other candidates are running--John Konopka of the Reform Party, Libertarian Daniel Sherman and Matt Ornati of the Natural Law Party.

Another top race also lies in San Diego's 49th District, where Republican Rep. Brian P. Bilbray is challenged by Democratic Assemblywoman Susan A. Davis. Also on the ballot are Libertarian Doris Ball and Tahir Bhatti of the Natural Law Party.

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