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Fundraising may narrow field for Henry Waxman's House seat

Most observers give three well-known, well-funded Democrats and a Democratic-leaning author the best chances in the June 3 primary for the longtime congressman's seat. But there are many other possibilities.

April 27, 2014|By Jean Merl
  • Candidates for the Waxman House seat include, from left, former L.A. City Controller and Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, attorney Barbara Mulvaney, former journalist Matt Miller and state Sen. Ted Lieu.
Candidates for the Waxman House seat include, from left, former L.A. City… (Los Angeles Times, Matt…)

Attorney Barbara Mulvaney prosecuted killers in Rwanda and promoted democracy for the U.S. State Department in Iraq before returning to Los Angeles and running for Congress.

She could hardly believe it when a local Democratic club barred her — and several other candidates of that party — from the dais at a recent campaign forum.

"I'm a very qualified candidate," Mulvaney said in an interview, taking issue with the club's decision to include only those who had raised at least $200,000 for their campaigns.

Photos: Candidates for the 33rd Congressional District

 "My reaction was disappointment," Mulvaney said, that the campaign system is "focused more on fundraising than on issues."

She will get a crack at voters this weekend, as will 17 others on the June 3 primary election ballot to succeed retiring Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills). All have been invited to a forum sponsored by the Brentwood News on Sunday.

But the earlier snub reflected a hard reality about crowded races in sprawling districts: Candidates are quickly sorted by political experience, name familiarity, party affiliation and, yes, the ability to raise money — perhaps the most common yardstick in measuring the viability of a campaign. Mulvaney has reported raising slightly more than $10,000.

California's relatively new voting districts and switch to the "jungle" primary add to the election calculus. The predominantly white and affluent Westside district was redrawn in 2011 to meld parts of the South Bay with Waxman's Beverly Hills base. All candidates will appear on the same ballot, with the top two finishers advancing to November regardless of any party ties.

In this solidly Democratic district, most observers put three members of that party, along with a bestselling author who has no party affiliation, in the top tier of candidates.

The 10 Democrats on the ballot could splinter the vote enough to allow a well-funded Republican to take one of the two fall ballot spots. But there's a fourth Democrat who has pulled together an impressive campaign treasury and shouldn't be ruled out.

The leading Democrats are presumed to be former Los Angeles City Controller and Councilwoman Wendy Greuel; state Sen. Ted Lieu; and Matt Miller, a former journalist, radio talk show host and Clinton administration staffer. Each has raised more than half a million dollars, has some political experience and is at least somewhat familiar to voters.

Greuel's campaign for Los Angeles mayor last year boosted her name recognition, but it also left her bloodied, especially over controversial spending on her behalf by a city union. Her political base is mainly outside the district, in the San Fernando Valley, where she grew up and her parents ran a building-supply company.

She and her husband and son recently moved to Brentwood. She has some support in the district and is backed by Emily's List, which helps elect Democratic women who support abortion rights.

Lieu hails from Torrance, in the southern, more politically moderate part of the district, where he served on the City Council before winning special elections to the state Assembly and Senate after the officeholders died. His family emigrated from Taiwan to Ohio when he was 3, and he recalls helping his parents sell gifts at flea markets as they pursued a piece of the American dream.

He said he joined the Air Force after college because he wanted to repay the country that provided his family a chance to succeed; he remains a member of the reserves.

Miller is making his first run for elected office. He has worked as a Washington Post columnist, written two policy books and is familiar to KCRW radio listeners as co-host of the public affairs show "Left, Right and Center." (He was the Center.)

The Pacific Palisades resident is trying to position himself as an informed outsider, a "proud but independent Democrat" with the experience to help break the political gridlock in Washington.

Spiritual teacher and bestselling author Marianne Williamson entered the race long before Waxman's surprise Jan. 30 announcement that he would retire this year after four decades in Congress. Williamson has campaigned almost nonstop for months, led in fundraising and built a core of volunteers, including some who say they were turned off by politics before meeting her.

A lifelong Democrat, Williamson has switched her registration to "no party preference," saying she believes both major parties share the blame for a "corrupt" system in which they are "deeply beholden to corporate interests in order to win elections."

She recently moved to Brentwood from just outside the district in West Hollywood.

"I think the top two will be among those four," said longtime Democratic strategist Garry South, who lives in the district but is not working for any of the candidates and has not endorsed any.

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