Democrat Janice Hahn on Tuesday night won the special election to replace Jane Harman as the District 36 representative in the U.S. Congress.
Hahn defeated Republican Craig Huey by 54.6 to 45.4 percent in a hard-fought campaign. Huey, a local businessman, is believed to have spent $900,000 of his own money. Hahn, a Los Angles City Councilwoman whose father was popular, longtime L.A. County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn and whose brother is former L.A. Mayor James Hahn, suffered the loss of her mother Ramona on the day before her election victory.
At an election party held at the Ports O’ Call restaurant in her hometown of San Pedro late Tuesday night, Hahn credited her energized campaign corps, which included 17 labor leaders who at one point took the stage together. She also credited core Democratic issues that she campaigned heavily on in a race that had national import, given the clash of values currently at play in Congress.
“Tonight, the voters of the 36th District have spoken,” Hahn told a raucous crowd of several hundred people. “I believe the results tonight show us that they want us to focus on jobs and the economy. And I believe with all my heart that they want us to get out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I believe they want us to protect social security and Medicare. And they always want us to fight to protect a woman’s right to chose.”
“They want us to take care of our environment. And I believe what I heard and what the voters said tonight is they want to end the tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires…But most of all, I think Americans want us to put aside extreme party politics and work together. They want us to focus on people – they want their elected officials to be first and foremost public servants. And that is why I think they saw fit to send a Hahn to Congress.”
Her nine percentage point victory – in a low turnout election in which only 76,221 out of 342,492, or 22 percent, of registered voters participated – was less than the 18 point registration advantage Democrats hold in District 36. Huey, who runs a direct marketing firm, waged a skillful campaign that included an unusual hand-delivered DVD that showed a Fox News report alleging that Hahn had helped employ active gang members in intervention programs.
The report was widely discredited by fact-checking organizations, including the Pulitzer Prize winning Politifact.com. And it was mirrored in an over-the-top Internet video that depicted Hahn as a stripper pole dancing for gang members. Huey distanced himself from the video, calling it sexist and racist, but the Hahn campaign showed that its producers had ties to Huey campaign vendors.
Huey likewise took exception to Hahn campaign flyers depicting him as living in a waterfront mansion with a yacht docked nearby. He was cognizant of the long-shot nature of his campaign, yet emboldened by his surprise second place finish in the May “open primary” that included 16 candidates.
Early election evening, a hopeful Huey was describing his quest as “Mission impossible.”
Initial returns showed him trailing Hahn by just 3,000 votes with approximately 40,000 early ballots counted. He said his informal exit polls showed a high turnout by Republicans and low turn out by Democrats. He also said he expected to pick up votes from disaffected Debra Bowen supporters. Bowen a Democrat, and the Secretary of State, finished third in the open primary.
“I had a rally in San Pedro and 40 to 50 Bowen supporters showed up because they were so angry at the dirty politics Hahn used against Bowen in the primary,” Huey said.
Huey also accused Hahn of dirty politics against him.
“She has no conscience. She accuses me of being wealthy because I live in Rancho Palos Verdes in a 1953 tract home. There’s no yacht out front of my home,” he said.
“I refused to do anything like that. I stuck to the issues, and the issues were economic. I had a 40 page power point presentation about the state of the economy and solutions to its problems,” he said
Another controversy that emerged in the final days of the campaign was the report of phone calls telling voters the election had been postponed due to Hahn’s mother’s death. The Hahn campaign reacted angrily, accusing Huey supporters of making a concerted effort to stifle turnout and calling on the U.S. Department of Justice and the California Attorney General to investigate.
“The penalties for election tampering are extremely severe, and we will make sure the perpetrators of these outrages are prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” said Hahn campaign attorney Stephen Kaufman.
And so the mood at the Ports O’ Call was particularly jubilant despite a margin of victory the New York Times on Wednesday described as “underwhelming.” Democratic Assemblyman Warren Furutani, a fourth generation Japanese-American who represents the 55th District in the California Assembly, took the podium and gave a rousing speech prior to Hahn’s arrival.
“We are America,” Furutani said, looking out across a roomful of ethnically diverse people. “We represent the American people. And not the goddamned ‘tea baggers’….The U.S. looks like you all – that is what this victory represents.”
But the heaviest emotions surrounded the Hahn family’s loss. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called the victory “bittersweet” but said that Congress had just gained a much needed voice.
“Washington needs her right now,” Villaraigosa said.
James Hahn introduced his sister. He credited his parents with instilling a sense of public service to both he and Janice.
“She is taking our family name to another level,” he said. “…For the Hahns, it’s about public service. We know what it means to be a public servant. It’s kind of a humble title, but its one with great responsibility, to make sure you are there fighting for the people. You know, the big important interests in this country will always have somebody to fight for them. But what the people need is a people’s fighter, and that is what you have in my sister Janice Hahn.”
Hahn, who had cancelled almost all her campaign appearances Tuesday as she grieved for her mother, emerged on the stage amid loud cheers. After touching on her political themes, she paused, choking back tears.
“Okay, here comes the hard part,” she said. “As you know, our family was devastated yesterday. Ramona Hahn was without doubt our rock and our driving force. It was through her strength and support that our father Kenny became one of the most beloved leaders in Los Angeles. Our parents were a team and they cared deeply about their family and their community. We have fond memories of our mother welcoming constituents into our home on a Saturday morning and putting on another pot of coffee while Kenny solved their problems. Our parents inspired both Jim and I to pursue public service, and to always put people first.”
“Continuing without our mother, our grandmother, and our great-grandmother will be very, very tough,” Hahn said. “But I know tonight that she and my father are looking down from heaven. And they are smiling.” ER