Open race for Jane Harman’s House seat in California

California 36th Congressional District

In a surprise move, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) resigned from the House earlier this week to become president and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. This leaves the heavily Democratic, mostly beach city communities of the 36th District wide open for election, which will probably be in June.

The Wilson Center is part of the Smithsonian Institute and was established by Congress in 1968. One-third of its funding comes from US government. It focuses on “strengthening the fruitful relations between the world of learning and the world of public affairs,” which is certainly a broad and somewhat vague mandate. The position is prestigious, to be sure, but were there other reasons for her leaving too? In D.C. nothing is generally as it appears. There was also some grumbling, even from supporters, about her “doing a Palin” and abruptly quitting office to pursue personal goals, leaving her constituents in the lurch.

While Harman says she will make no endorsement because her new position requires her to be non-partisan, she’d barely turned off the microphone after making the announcement before Los Angeles City councilmember Janice Hahn had her website up announcing she was running. She’s a moderately liberal Democrat. Her father Ken was a member of the powerful Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for 40 years, from 1952-1992, and her brother Jim served as mayor of Los Angeles from 2001-2005. Clearly, she has huge political connections and already has received endorsements from the current mayor of L.A. and Magic Johnson, among others. She is clearly the frontrunner, but the race has just started. Also, her City Council District barely overlaps the 36th Congressional District and so far, no high visibility people in the 36th have endorsed her.

Santa Monica, Venice, Marina del Rey, Manhattan Beach, and Redondo Beach comprise much of the 36th, which also includes much of Torrance. The only real overlap between it and Hahn’s district is San Pedro. It’s mostly affluent, heavily liberal and progressive, and Hahn does not have home court advantage here.

Debra Bowen, current California Secretary of State and previous member of the legislature for 14 years, should she choose to run, absolutely does have that advantage. She’s from Venice, is a former environmental lawyer and liberal/progressive who is well-known and liked in the area. Hahn has no particular visibility in the 36th. Bowen has lots of it and is strongly considering running.

To the left of Bowen is Marcy Winograd, who ran against Harman in 2008 and 2010. She founded the Los Angeles chapter of Progressive Democrats of America, has been active in Code Pink, and most everyone thinks she will run again. She no longer lives in the area but according to the Los Angeles Times, residency is not a requirement.

John Amato of the mega-blog Crooks and Liars considered running against Harman in 2010. Some are urging him to run now.

So there you have it, a wide open race for a left of center Democrat to win (Sorry Republicans, but you have no chance in the 36th). I lived in Venice for ten years up to 2005. In my opinion, if Bowen runs, she will be very difficult to beat. This will also be one of the first elections in California under the new Top Two open primary system, whereby the two highest vote getters regardless of party face each other in the general election. This could very well mean it will be Bowen vs. Hahn in both the Democratic primary and the general election.

(Cross-posted from CAIVN)

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