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Tightening Race in California's Special Election?

Democrat Janice Hahn is favored to win, but Republican Craig Huey has been closing the gap.

6:36 PM, Jul 11, 2011 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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In tomorrow's special election in California’s 36th Congressional District, Los Angeles city council member Janice Hahn, a well-known Democrat, leads Craig Huey, a Tea Party-backed Republican and businessman. The race, long considered a sure bet for Democrats, seems now to be a little closer than expected. Huey has surged in this heavily Democratic southern California district, according to a Daily Kos-SEIU poll released today, and now trails Hahn by only eight points.

The district’s former representative, Democratic congresswoman Jane Harman, resigned earlier this year to head the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Harman won reelection in 2010 by 25 points and received over 60 percent of the vote in the previous three elections. The district has a Cook partisan voting index of +12 for the Democrats and voted for Barack Obama over John McCain, in 2008, by 30 points.

As the Washington Times points out, the race has gained plenty of attention over an independent attack ad (language warning) against Hahn that went viral on YouTube:

The video, “Gimme Your Money, B****,” features two “rappers” accusing Democratic candidate Janice Hahn of coddling gang members during her 10 years on the Los Angeles City Council. The highlight is Mrs. Hahn’s red-eyed, demonic face imposed on a pole-dancer’s body as the rappers, pretending to be gang members, pull dollar bills out of her shorts.

The video, produced by an independent group not affiliated with the local Republican campaign, has been denounced as racist, sexist and just plain vile, but it may help explain why there remains some doubt as to the outcome of Tuesday’s race to succeed retiring Democratic Rep. Jane Harman.

Will this be a factor, particularly if Huey pulls off the upset win? It’s unclear, since the ad never ran on local television. But the ad is based on a story from the local Fox affiliate that alleges that Hahn, as a member of the city council, helped release a convicted criminal to participate in a “gang intervention” program, which uses former gang members. Politifact says that claim is false, but, regardless, the program is controversial enough that raised awareness of it could be contributing to Hahn’s tough fight.

Additionally, the Almanac of American Politics points out that the libertarian-leaning 36th Congressional District is also “leery of taxes” and is a major location for the defense and aerospace industries. Harman’s popularity within the district was perhaps explained by her relative conservatism on business and national security issues within California’s very liberal Democratic caucus.

Even so, the Washington Post is reporting that even in a surprisingly close race, Republicans aren’t optimistic about Huey’s chances. Hahn has criticized Huey for his conservative views on abortion, as well as his support for the House GOP budget's Medicare reforms.

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