By Gene Maddaus
Special to Calbuzz
By all rights, Janice Hahn should run away with Tuesday’s Congressional special election. Democrats have an 18-point registration advantage in the 36th District, and she’s facing a virtually unknown challenger in Republican Craig Huey.
But she’s also facing a substantial enthusiasm gap, which has brought Huey within striking distance of an upset. Huey is a Tea Party guy with a 30-year background in direct marketing, and he’s employing all the tricks of the trade in his campaign.
As a result, his supporters seem to be more motivated — more riled up — than Hahn’s — which is important in a super-low-turnout, mid-summer special election. But it’s still not clear there’s enough of them to overcome Hahn’s overwhelming registration advantage.
The campaign bears a resemblance to last year’s race in the 53rd Assembly District, which overlaps with the coastal portion of CD-36. Betsy Butler, an establishment Democrat, faced off against a no-name Tea Party opponent, Nathan Mintz, in a district with a 12-point Democratic advantage. Mintz was written off early but gave her a good run for it, losing by just 7 points.
It was by no means an uplifting or resounding victory for Butler, but she got it done, and that’s probably what Hahn will do in CD-36. She’ll win ugly.
Of course, Huey surprised everybody by beating Debra Bowen in the primary and making it into the runoff, so you don’t want to discount the possibility of an upset. It’s unlikely, but not impossible.
The race has already defied expectations by not being boring. An independent group launched “the most offensive political ad of all time” — a viral video that portrayed Hahn as a stripper giving cash to gang members. It was racist, sexist, and irresistible, racking up several hundred thousand views on YouTube and drawing denunciation and condemnation from just about everyone (including Huey).
Huey, meanwhile, has made good copy in his own right. His direct mail business has promoted all sorts of shady investment schemes and bogus nutritional supplements. His company website (cdmginc.com), which for some reason is still online, is a gold mine of sleazy direct marketing techniques — such as, “motivate with fear” and tips on how to “disarm the skepticism” of old people.
My personal favorite was the “Obama Crisis Kit,” which leveraged fear of Obama to sell a gold mining penny stock. One of his campaign issues, oddly enough, is “nutritional freedom” — which he apparently defines as the right to make whatever health claim you want on behalf of snake oil remedies without interference from the “government bureaucrats” at the FDA. He’s the kind of guy that consumer protection regulations are written to impede.
Huey, for his part, has described Hahn as a career politician and a product of the downtown L.A. political machine, and he’s not wrong about that. Love her or hate her, Hahn is a union tool who has taken gobs of money from downtown lobbyists.
She’s a good fit for her home base of San Pedro and Wilmington, but she’s not the ideal candidate for the more affluent, coastal precincts, which prefer their Democrats a little wonkier. Those are the Bowen supporters, and it’s worth noting that Bowen has not endorsed Hahn. (She’s got an excuse — as Secretary of State she doesn’t want to seem biased — but if she had made the runoff presumably she would have had no trouble endorsing herself.)
So, in any special election, it comes down to turnout. The L.A. County Federation of Labor can presumably be relied upon to deliver San Pedro — which is chock full of longshoremen — but it doesn’t have the same clout in the Venice-to-Redondo Beach corridor.
Hahn’s campaign has been trying to rile those folks up by focusing on abortion. That’s an issue that helped get Bowen and Jane Harman elected 20 years ago, and we’ll see if it still has the same salience.
Huey has something like 7,000 lawn signs out there, and he’s been all over conservative talk radio. Certainly there is some worry in the Hahn camp. If she loses she should immediately retire from politics and take up fly fishing or something.
And if Huey loses, expect him to be back in 2012 with a redrawn district that will include his home base on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
Gene Maddaus covers politics for the LA Weekly
Late update: A poll by Daily Kos and SEIU found Hahn leading Huey 52-44%. We can’t vouch for the survey, but if you want to check it out, you can find it here.