Guy Benson

Voters in California's 36th Congressional District are going to the polls today to elect a replacement for former Rep. Jane Harman (D), who retired earlier this year.  As we've discussed, the two candidates vying for the seat are Democrat Janice Hahn -- whose questionable policies on gang violence have spawned both legitimate scrutiny and hideous smears -- and Tea Party-aligned Republican Craig Huey.  President Obama won this district by thirty points in 2008, and Harman sailed to a comfortable win in 2010.  This should be a slam dunk, blow-out hold for Democrats -- and yet, they're reportedly worried.  Turnout will be quite low for a mid-July special election, so if Huey manages to turn out his base, the results may be tighter than the DCCC would care to admit.  Just how nervous are Democrats?  They're calling in some pretty big guns:
 

Democrat Janice Hahn enjoys all the inherent advantages of a front-runner heading into the low turnout midsummer affair to replace former Rep. Jane Harman, including a double-digit party registration advantage. But if her campaign is confident in a decisive victory in the traditionally blue coastal 36th Congressional District, it hasn’t shown its cards. The Los Angeles city councilwoman has campaigned like she’s treading water, slinging attacks at Republican tea partier Craig Huey and even bringing in President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton to record robocalls in the campaign’s final days.


So what?  A few robocalls don't mean much, right?  Perhaps not, but there are other troubling indicators for Democrats.  Independents are breaking for Huey, the early vote holds some ominious signs, and President Obama isn't exactly Mr. Popular in the district he carried so decisively three years ago:
 

[Independents are] poised to act as the wild card in the race. The latest PPP results show these voters are with Huey — by a 10-point margin.  In addition, a plurality has an unfavorable view of Hahn, and a notable 53 percent disapproves of Obama’s job performance.  They account for a little more than 20 percent of the district’s electorate, but both sides acknowledge that forecasting whether this coveted demographic will show up is a fool’s errand.

If the first ballots cast in the contest are any indication of how tight the race it will be, the Hahn camp may have reason to be anxious.  Early vote tabulations by party show Democratic-leaning voters holding just a 2-percentage-point edge over Republicans — a potentially promising sign for Huey’s absentee turnout effort. While it’s impossible to know how many of these early voters crossed their party affiliation, the numbers are the first hard evidence to suggest Huey is running a much closer race than anticipated.


A very sharp Townhall reader who -- I think he'll agree -- is a bit of a political nerd emails (gbenson@townhall.com) this fascinating analysis of what to look for tonight:
 

One of the big upsets this year was in CA’s inaugural jungle primary for House District 36. The safe bet was on LA city council woman Janice Hahn and Secretary of State Debra Bowen. They both appealed to the liberal base, but what would you know, Craig Huey a conservative businessman came out of nowhere and placed second. This shocked all the pundits, but upon further review I think it makes sense.

Former congresswoman Jane Harman was a centrist Democrat and she constantly was challenged from the left because she was deemed too moderate for the district. But maybe she did so because there is still a moderate to conservative base in the district. If you look at the primary results, Huey received the majority of his vote from Torrance, CA. This is a somewhat Democratic area, but it has a sizable portion of Republicans and Independents. They voted heavily for him.

Also, people forget that a Republican, Steven Kuykendall represented the 36th district  from 1999 – 2001. He won the open seat (Jane Harman relinquished that year to run for Governor) and guess who he defeated by 2 points? Democratic nominee Janice Hahn...I am going in with low expectations, but I wouldn't be shocked by a Republican win.


Here's Huey's closing argument to voters, via the indispensable Jim Geragthy:
 


Will this message fly with voters in the deep-blue precincts of southern California?  We'll find out soon enough.  Polls close at 11pm ET.  Stay tuned.


UPDATE - I understand Janice Hahn's mother passed away yesterday.  Politics aside, we wish her family peace and closure as they grieve.  RIP.


Guy Benson

Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Senior Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography