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Jane Harman's 36th District seat attracts a crowded field

With 16 on the May 17 ballot to replace Democrat Jane Harman, most observers don't expect any candidate to win a majority of votes.

April 29, 2011|By Jean Merl, Los Angeles Times

Volunteers are knocking on doors and working the phones, and the campaign brochures are landing in mailboxes with increasing regularity.

Mail-in ballots are available this week, and a couple of dark-horse candidates have shown they have money to spend. The crowded May 17 election to succeed Jane Harman in Congress has entered a new phase.

Sixteen candidates are on the ballot, about half of them with at least some money for substantive campaigns. Most observers expect that no single candidate will win a majority next month; the two highest vote-getters, regardless of party, may well compete in a July 12 runoff. That could provide the first instance of two members of the same party in a runoff since California voters approved a new "top two" balloting system last year.

Harman, who resigned to take a job with a Washington think tank, represented the 36th Congressional District, which stretches south along the coast from Mar Vista and Venice to San Pedro and includes some inland neighborhoods in Torrance and Lomita. It is home to much of the nation's aerospace and defense industry and includes part of Los Angeles International Airport. The nearby twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles provide jobs for many district residents.

In the last redrawing of political boundaries a decade ago, the district was configured to heavily favor Democrats. They hold a 45%-27.5% registration edge over Republicans there, with 22% unaffiliated.

The Democratic advantage hasn't stopped six Republicans from entering the race. Four of them have enough money or political base to mount a campaign: Redondo Beach Mayor Mike Gin, Redondo Beach City Atty. Mike Webb, Hermosa Beach Councilman Patrick "Kit" Bobko and evangelical Christian advertising business owner Craig Huey, who lives outside the district in Rolling Hills Estates. Congressional candidates are not required to live in the districts they seek to represent.

Bobko, Webb and Huey all sound familiar GOP calls for sharply cutting government spending. Gin, who is pro-choice and doing relatively well in fundraising, strikes a more moderate stance, calling for limited government and wiser spending but stopping short of embracing House Republicans' call to dismantle Medicare and replace it with vouchers.

Some Republican analysts see the May vote as a trial run for next year's regular elections. They expect the district to be less heavily Democratic after an independent commission redraws the political map this summer.

The top-finishing GOP candidate, especially if he stakes out middle ground, will "look very strong for next year," said Republican strategist John S. Thomas. "If the district becomes more balanced [after redistricting], then a social moderate, fiscal conservative may have a good chance of taking the seat in 2012."

But there's little doubt among experts that a Democrat will win the special election, and three of the five on the ballot are prominent women with track records in the district. Most see the race as a close battle between Secretary of State Debra Bowen, who represented a large swath of the district when she was in the Legislature, and Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who has raised the most money.

Antiwar activist and teacher Marcy Winograd, who twice challenged Harman in primaries, also is campaigning hard.

Entertainment industry executive and political newcomer Daniel Adler has surprised observers with an energetic campaign; he counts actress Patty Duke and former Disney chief Michael Eisner among his supporters. Adler had not raised money before the March 31 reporting deadline.

Like Winograd and Huey, Adler lives a short distance outside the district. The fifth Democrat, from the Central Valley, doesn't appear to be campaigning.

Registration for the election closes Monday. Mail ballots are available through lavote.net.

jean.merl@latimes.com

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