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Feinstein Move Marks Fast Start to Special Election Race

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn has been racking up big-name supporters in the 36th district special election race, including a prominent blessing from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). 

Just a week into the race and without an election date solidified on the calendar, Hahn is acting like the frontrunner. There’s the potential for a high-profile Democratic primary, with California Secretary of State Debra Bowen strongly considering her own bid. Bowen, who already is raising money, will announce in the next couple of days whether she will run, a spokesman told Roll Call.

These two Los Angeles-based Democratic players and a speedy timeline could increase turnout in what will be one of the first special elections of the 112th Congress. The contest could last fewer than two months, and the district’s demographics suggest the Democratic primary winner will be favored in a general election.

Hahn immediately began building a campaign team that was nearly entirely in place the day after news broke that Rep. Jane Harman (D) would resign from Congress.

“The councilwoman has hit the ground running,” spokesman Dave Jacobson said, noting that she has spent the past week visiting various local Democratic clubs and speaking with party delegates. “She is getting her message out, and the response has been tremendous.”

Feinstein’s move followed quick endorsement announcements from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, state Assembly Speaker John Pérez, NBA Hall-of-Famer Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers, as well as various local elected officials and labor unions.

“I am proud to endorse Janice Hahn for Congress,” Feinstein said in a statement Monday. “Given her history of public service, and her 10 years of experience in local government, there is nobody better prepared to serve the people of California’s 36th Congressional District.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer has not made an endorsement. A campaign spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment about the race by press time.

Among Hahn’s hires are John Shallman, who will be her general consultant; Joe Trippi, who will handle media; John Fairbank, who will handle polling; and Stephanie Daily Smith on the fundraising side.

As for Bowen, she set up a website asking supporters whether she should run and an ActBlue fundraising page for contributions to the Debra Bowen for Congress Exploratory Committee.

“I know the 36th Congressional District well: It includes my home, as well as most of the people I represented during my time in the California State Legislature. So I’m very seriously weighing whether I should run for Congress,” Bowen wrote on her website.

Bowen consultant Steve Barkan told Roll Call that his boss is talking to supporters in the district and other Members of Congress.

“It’s a tough decision because she’s doing work that she enjoys right now, and she wants to see if that’s also work she’s interested in,” Barkan said.

Despite the Democratic lean of the district, Republicans see an opportunity.

Several names are being mentioned on the Republican side: Mattie Fein, who lost to Harman in November; Craig Huey, who runs several evangelical Christian websites, newsletters and forums; Nathan Mintz, the GOP nominee in last year’s race in the overlapping 53rd Assembly district; and Redondo Beach City Attorney Mike Webb, considered a strong fundraiser.

Webb told Roll Call he is close to a decision. “I’m still leaning strongly in favor of running,” he said. “I’ll be creating an exploratory committee by the end of the week.”

This is Hahn’s second run for Harman’s seat — the first was an unsuccessful bid in 1998 when Harman ran for governor. Harman served from 1992 to 1998, then was re-elected in 2000 after a two-year hiatus.

Harman’s resignation is expected to be official Tuesday, allowing Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to potentially call the special election for June 7, when a coinciding election on taxes is rumored to be scheduled. 

According to the secretary of state’s office, the governor must call a special election within 14 days of the date the office is vacated, which in this case will be today. The special must be held at least 112 days but no more than 126 days from the date the governor calls the special.

However, if the special can be consolidated with another election, it can be held anytime up to 180 days from when the governor calls it. 

If the special election is held in June, the Hahn campaign said it expects the primary would be sometime in early April. Hahn and Bowen would be a high-profile matchup, with Bowen a statewide-elected official from LA and Hahn a well-known name in the city.

Hahn’s late father, Kenneth Hahn, served on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for 40 years and was instrumental in bringing the Dodgers baseball team to LA from Brooklyn. Her brother, James Hahn, served a term as mayor from 2001 to 2005 and is a former LA city attorney.

This will be California’s first Congressional election held under its new top-two primary format. The top two finishers in the all-party primary would advance to the special general election, unless one candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote.

Harman won this coastal district with at least 60 percent of the vote in each election since the 2002 redistricting, and President Barack Obama carried it with 64 percent in 2008. Harman defeated Fein 60 percent to 35 percent in November.