Airing her Democratic campaign's first television commercial in a tight race to regain the South Bay area congressional seat she gave up two years ago, Jane Harman sharply criticized GOP incumbent Rep. Steven T. Kuykendall for voting for tax cuts over social programs.
Harman's new cable TV ads, combined with cable spots Kuykendall began running last week questioning Harman's local ties and dedication to the district, have injected a rancor into what had been a relatively polite race in the 36th Congressional District, which runs from Venice to San Pedro.
The 30-second Harman ad that began running Tuesday on cable stations throughout the district shows a Palos Verdes Peninsula resident and Harman supporter castigating Kuykendall, of Rancho Palos Verdes.
"Steve Kuykendall voted for an irresponsible trillion-dollar tax cut that left no money to improve schools, strengthen Social Security or Medicare, or even reduce the debt," resident Stephan Sperling says. Then Harman appears on camera, introducing herself and saying, "I've got different priorities--and my record shows it."
"Let's use the budget surplus," Harman continues, "to shore up Social Security. Provide prescription drug coverage through Medicare for all seniors. Reduce class size. And pay down the debt."
The gambit could be a bit risky in this district, where voters tend to be moderate to liberal on social issues but conservative on fiscal matters.
But Roy Behr, Harman's campaign consultant, said Harman's priorities for using a projected $2.2-trillion federal budget surplus are in sync with voters' views.
"The vast majority of this district agrees with her on these issues," Behr said. "There is clearly a place for targeted tax cuts, and Jane supports some, but what she doesn't support is the Kuykendall and George Bush plan to devote the vast majority of tax cuts to millionaires who don't need it."
The Kuykendall campaign reacted angrily to the ad.
"Basically, this is Jane Harman openly deceiving voters, a total disregard for the truth," said spokesman Adam Mendelsohn.
Mendelsohn said all the claims in the Harman ad are false and cited in particular Kuykendall's August 1999 authorship of a resolution calling for national debt reduction to take priority over tax cuts.
The Harman campaign cited Kuykendall's July 1999 vote for a tax-relief bill that it says would have cost $960 billion over 10 years; the 10-year projected budget surplus at that time was $746 billion.
The race is one of about four dozen across the country that will decide which party controls the House next year. With three weeks to the Nov. 7 election, analysts and the campaigns say it remains a tossup.
Democrats saw their best hope of recapturing the seat in Harman, of Rolling Hills, who represented the district for three terms before giving up the seat in 1998 to run for governor. That year, Kuykendall narrowly defeated Democrat Janice Hahn.