The next special congressional election is two weeks away in California and Democratic nominee Janice Hahn appears nervous. The general election phase of this contest should be an easy run for any Dem, and was viewed as such ever since Republican Craig Huey slipped through the jungle primary election instead of the favored Debra Bowen (D), California’s Secretary of State. CA-36 is solidly Democratic. The worst number posted by the party’s presidential candidate since 1996 is 57 percent, and the region routinely elects liberals to virtually every political position. But Hahn isn’t acting like a runaway winner. She just aired a new ad attacking Huey as an “extremist politician” followed up with a more positive commercial about her own career. The latter ad surprisingly does not mention she’s a Democrat, instead choosing to emphasize that she has “never held partisan office.”
Several weeks ago Ms. Hahn, a Los Angeles City councilwoman who has previously lost a race for Congress (1998) and another for lieutenant governor (2010), surveyed the district but refuse to publicize the results even while tepidly claiming that she led Huey “beyond the margin of error.” These actions suggest that the CA-36 special election is much closer than anyone would have originally believed. Hahn will still likely win this race, but it’s probable she will under-perform the Democratic average.
Even if the councilwoman does prevail on July 12, the road to re-election may be quite difficult. The new Palos Verdes East seat, as the 36th has been named in the new redistricting plan, covers many of the same communities – Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, Torrance – but the new seat possesses a much more Republican complexion. While Barack Obama carried the new Palos Verdes East seat with 53.6 percent of the vote, under the old 36th district boundaries, the president’s number topped 64 percent. In the very close race for attorney general in 2010, an election the Democratic nominee carried by less than one percentage point statewide, the Republican nominee actually scored a 45-41 percent plurality within the Palos Verdes East boundaries.
While Ms. Hahn now surprisingly finds herself in a competitive race, it is likely she will face a difficult re-election challenge even if July 12 brings her success. The Palos Verdes East seat looks like another of the more competitive districts that the new California Citizens Redistricting Commission constructed.
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