Democrat Janice Hahn wins 36th District US House race

Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn.
Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn.
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Democrat Janice Hahn has defeated Republican Craig Huey in a bitter contest for a Southern California House seat. Her victory preserves her party's hold on the district as she survives an unusually tough race in the longtime Democratic stronghold. Hahn spoke Wednesday morning with KPCC's AirTalk.

With all districts reporting, Hahn, a Los Angeles city councilwoman, had 41,585 votes, or about 55 percent, to 34,636, or about 45 percent, for Huey. Huey owns marketing and advertising companies and largely bankrolled his campaign with nearly $900,000 in personal funds.

With a light turnout and widespread voter anxiety over the economy, Republicans were hoping for an upset that would send a message heading toward the 2012 national elections, in which President Barack Obama will seek a second term.

The race presented a stark choice. Huey, 61, is a conservative who wanted to slash spending, taxes and debt and roll back government regulation; Hahn, 59, a Los Angeles city councilwoman, is a fixture in local Democratic politics who wants to see the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the growth of alternative energy.

Hahn's victory was far from impressive, given an 18-point Democratic registration edge in the 36th Congressional District, which runs from the famous Venice boardwalk through the beach communities south of Los Angeles International Airport.

This morning on KPCC's AirTalk, Hahn defended her win, telling host Larry Mantle that Democrats' registration advantage only really works in a presidential election and that it shrinks in other elections, particularly a special election with low turnout.

The result was obviously disappointing for Huey, but campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Jacobs said the campaign was pleased that the race was well within the 18-point registration edge because "there's a sizable amount of people who broke with registration to vote for jobs and the economy in America."

KPCC's political reporter Frank Stoltze said later that many were viewing Hahn's 10-point win as "something of a victory for Republicans."

Hahn credited the Tea Party as being largely responsible for Republican Craig Huey's victory. "The Tea Party came in mass," canvassing districts, said Hahn.

Hahn takes office in the midst of contentious negotiations over the debt ceiling between President Obama and congressional Democrats on one side and congressional Republicans on the other.

"I don't think I have the luxury of laying back and getting the lay of the land," Hahn said. She added that her district's been unrepresented since Democratic Rep. Jane Harman resigned, and "I need to represent this district and get in there." Harman resigned earlier this year to head a Washington think tank.

Hahn said that she thinks the district she represents want her to get a handle on the national deficit and the national debt, but "We don't have to give up Social Security and Medicare to raise the debt ceiling." She said that framing the debate in such a way provides a "false choice."

Hahn said that she thinks there's $4 trillion that could be cut – the same number President Obama has been arguing for.

When asked if she was willing to compromise with Republicans, the democrat said, "The future of this country is at stake, and if compromises have to be made, I certainly will follow the lead of the president."

"Americans want us to get together, find common ground, and have some common sense solutions," said Hahn. "They want to see some compromises, they want to see people working together."

The election came just one day after her 86-year-old mother died. "It came at a really rough time for me," Hahn said. She abruptly suspended her schedule to join her grieving family, but staffers said it would not change the campaign's long-set plans to get voters to the polls. Hahn said he knows her mom would want her to "soldier on."

Hahn plans to bury her mother Saturday before traveling to Washington next week. She says she's spoken with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's office and that she'll be sworn into office Tuesday if it's approved by Republican Speaker John Boehner.

Hahn appeared on AirTalk last week for the only debate of the district 36 race. Hahn talked about what she called a "contentious" race with Huey. "People either wanted to continue on a path in this country of protecting the wealthy, or they wanted to make a clear choice with someone like me."

Each campaign had pooled over $1 million and plowed much of it into sharp-edged advertising: Hahn had sought to link Huey to Sarah Palin and referred to his agenda as "extremist," while Huey derided Hahn as a career politician with ties to a troubled gang-intervention program.

Bill Clinton recorded automated phone messages for Hahn. Organizing for America, the group that provides Democratic Party's foot-soldiers, asked supporters to make thousands of phone calls.

Hahn said that she would continue pushing for an investigation by the Federal Election Commission into allegations that Huey supporters tried to discourage Hahn supporters by telling them the election had been postponed a day. Huey supporters also allegedly set up fake polling places. Huey's campaign manager said they had nothing to do with that.

"We've asked the FEC for an investigation, and I think we continue with that," said Hahn. "If someone's done something wrong, they need to be held accountable for that."

Hahn's victory opens a seat on the 15th city council district, which stretches from Watts down to San Pedro. The head of the Firefighters' Union Pat McOsker has already said he'll run for that seat, and several other have expressed interest, including assemblyman Warren Furutani and former city councilman Rudy Svorinich.

Audio: KPCC's Frank Stoltze speaks with KPCC's Steve Julian on Janice Hahn's 36th Congressional District win.

This story incorporates information from the Associated Press.