Race already underway for Jane Harman's seat

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Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) hears testimony from Obama Administration cabinet members during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill April 22, 2009 in Washington, DC.

Democrat Jane Harman is leaving Congress to head up a prestigious research center in Washington, DC. The resignation creates a rare political opportunity: an open seat in a job without term limits.

It was victory night for Congresswoman Harman last November. She’d just won her ninth term in Congress. But outside of California, House Democrats got a shellacking.

"Losing the majority in the House is a bitter pill," Harman said. "And returning to the minority – a place I have seen for some long years in the past - is not a thrillingly exciting idea. But that is democracy. And the people are speaking."

Now Harman herself is speaking.

In an e-mail to constituents, the El Segundo politician announced she was leaving Congress for the top job at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Just hours after Harman’s announcement, LA City Councilwoman Janice Hahn announced she’s running for the seat.

Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters says California Secretary of State Debra Bowen is right behind her. Walters says, "Congressional seats don’t open up in California very often and the opportunity to snag one is a rare opportunity."

Both Hahn and Bowen have strong ties to the 36th district, which stretches from San Pedro to Venice. Hahn represents San Pedro on the LA City Council; Bowen used to represent El Segundo and Manhattan Beach when she was in the state legislature. Walters adds that Bowen’s husband works in Washington at the Department of Agriculture.

Another likely candidate is Marcy Winograd, who challenged Harman in the last three Democratic primaries. But Walters says she’s a progressive candidate in a moderate district.

"The only 'crazy' part of it is probably Venice," he says. "The rest of it is pretty middle class, homeowner, not really left wing in any way."

Another candidate mentioned by Democratic consultants is Assemblyman Ted Lieu. But he’s running for State Senate in a special election next Tuesday to replace the late Jenny Oropeza.

What about Republican candidates? Dan Walters says the 36th used to be GOP country.

"But once the aerospace industry collapsed in California with the end of the Cold War, there was a lot of movement out of that whole area and aerospace workers and their families vacated it like crazy and the whole area changed from being Republican, pretty solidly Republican, to being a Democratic area," he says.

This will be the first Congressional election under the rules of Proposition 14. Voters can choose any candidate, regardless of party, with the top two vote-getters meeting in a runoff if no one gets a majority.

Gov. Jerry Brown has two weeks days to set an election date, likely in June.

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