Democrat Janice Hahn won a U.S. House special election in Southern California, thwarting a bid by Republican businessman Craig Huey in a traditionally Democratic district.
With all the votes counted in yesterday’s election, the Associated Press’s unofficial tally showed Hahn with 55 percent to Huey’s 45 percent.
Hahn, 59, is a Los Angeles City Council member and scion of a prominent local political family. Huey, 61, ran a largely self-financed campaign and was making his first bid for public office.
The two vied for the seat vacated by Democrat Jane Harman, who gave up her seat early this year to become president and director of the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Harman won re-election in 2010 by about 25 percentage points, and in the 2008 presidential vote Barack Obama carried the House district by 30 percentage points -- evidence of its Democratic tilt.
Republicans saw an opportunity for victory because of California’s 11.7 percent unemployment rate as of May, the financial struggles facing the U.S. and the state governments and the low turnout that usually marks special elections.
“On a traditional political landscape, Craig Huey shouldn’t have any chance of winning at all,” Dan Schnur, head of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, said before yesterday’s vote. Still, “angry voters do unusual things,” Schnur said.
With Hahn’s victory, the party breakdown in the House will be 240 Republicans, 193 Democrats. Two seats are vacant -- one that had been held by a Republican, the other by a Democrat.
The district encompasses much of Los Angeles County’s South Bay area, including several beach communities. Long a center for the defense and aerospace industries, the district’s major employers include Chicago-based Boeing Co.
Hahn is the daughter of a longtime Los Angeles county commissioner, the late Kenneth Hahn, and the sister of former Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn. Janice Hahn first won her city council seat in 2001, and in the House campaign was backed by women’s organizations, labor unions and environmental groups. She raised about $1.3 million, most of it coming from individual contributions, according to the MAPLight group.
In ads, Hahn linked Huey to former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, and accused him of pushing an “extremist right-wing agenda” that would benefit big business.
Taking a cue from Democrat Kathy Hochul, who in May won a House special election in a traditionally Republican district in New York by focusing her fire on a Republican proposal to privatize Medicare, Hahn sought to link Huey to the plan.
Huey mobilized the district’s fiscally conservative Tea Party activists in his campaign, voters who helped him finish second to Hahn among 15 candidates in a May 17 primary in which the two top finishers -- regardless of party --would face off in the special election. California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, a Democrat who some state political analysts had predicted would emerge as Hahn’s opponent, trailed Huey by less than 1,000 votes in the primary.
Huey, owner of a marketing company, poured more than $880,000 of his own money into his campaign, accounting for the bulk of the almost $1.1 million he collected, according to MAPLight.org, a nonpartisan research organization based in Berkeley, California.
He criticized Hahn as a “career politician” who supports the type of policies responsible for federal and state fiscal woes. He pledged to work to cut government spending and taxes if sent to Washington.
A controversial YouTube ad that targeted Hahn by a filmmaker unaffiliated with Huey’s campaign figured prominently in the race. The ad superimposed Hahn’s face on a stripper’s body and linked her to gang members. Huey distanced himself from the ad, denouncing it as sexist and racist.
Harman, 66, had first been elected to Congress in 1992. She served three terms before unsuccessfully seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in California in 1998. She reclaimed her House seat in the 2000 elections.