Janice Hahn and Laura Richardson, two Democrats, both incumbent members of Congress, are facing off in November for the same seat. The seemingly odd race between incumbent members of the same party is an interesting result of this year’s new California open primary as well as redistricting, resulting in California’s newly-redrawn 44th congressional district.
Representative Hahn may have a slight advantage in that it’s only been a year since she was last on the campaign trail. Desperate to maintain their hold on a congressional seat that hasn’t been red in over a decade, Democrats rallied behind Hahn in 2011 to defeat Republican businessman and Tea Party candidate Craig Huey in a special election after longtime Democratic incumbent Jane Harman stepped down last February.
Despite spending $900,000 of his own money, Huey would eventually lose what became an increasingly partisan and negative race, garnering 45% of the vote to Hahn’s 55%.
The district had long been a Democratic stronghold. It voted for President Obama in 2008 and John Kerry in 2004 by margins of 30% and 20% respectively. Reports indicate, however, that independent voters likely played a significant role in determining the outcome of the race.
Tactics utilized by Hahn and Huey illustrate that both candidates were aware of the importance of courting independent voters. Citing measures taken by both campaigns, IVN contributor Christopher Guzman noted each candidate’s attempt to remove any stigma of partisanship and appeal to voters across the spectrum:
“Both candidates will bring their own branding to July 12th’s special election. Hahn has served on the Los Angeles City Council since 2001. Huey has never held public office. On the campaign trail, Hahn recently topped $1 million while Huey followed with $839,514 (in large part financed by himself and loans he had taken out). Ultimately, the claims of both candidates, that they can appeal to a broad coalition of voters, will soon be put to the test.”
This year, Hahn faces a worthy opponent in Congresswoman Laura Richardson as well, a member of the US House of Representatives since 2007. Richardson’s constituency of the past several years may play an integral part in shaping the outcome of the race.
A majority of voters in Richardson’s current district will be voting in the general election for the newly-created 44th district, 58% of which is currently being represented by Richardson, while only a small portion of Hahn’s current district makes up the 44th.
The new district also includes a high percentage of racial minority voters (including almost 50% Latino voters and nearly 30% black voters). Born in 1962, Annenberg Digital News states that, “Richardson is likely to have the advantage of relating to minority voters. She is the daughter of a white mother and black father who remembers watching the civil rights movement unfurl on television.”
Also standing in Richardson’s corner is the Congressional Black Caucus, which endorsed her long before the June primary and has assisted in funding her campaign. Richardson has also received an endorsement from the California Legislative Black Caucus.
Richardson, though a more experienced candidate, doesn’t come without setbacks of her own. Facing numerous damaging allegations of ethics violations, Richardson trailed Hahn in the June open primary by 20 points.
Perhaps some of the negative attention surrounding Richardson has contributed to the support Hahn has received from many Democratic leaders. Along with the endorsements of the California Democratic Party and the LA Times, Hahn seems to have the support of the Democratic House leadership, which let her share the stage with Nancy Pelosi and other members at the Democratic National Convention earlier this month, but left out Richardson, a rather unconventionally strong signal from leadership on an intraparty race.
Neither campaign is likely to hold much of a financial advantage in terms of fundraising, both depleted most of their funds during the June open primary, and Representative Richardson has actually been listed as having one of the largest campaign debts among all politicians.
The new “top two” open primary system in California was originally proposed as a means of creating more competitive general elections, allowing independent voters and minority party voters the ability to have a stronger influence on the outcome of races. Such a system is sure to strengthen the voices of independent voters across the spectrum as well in this election and in years to come. Having two incumbents of the same party square off is a good start.
Join the discussion Please be relevant and respectful.
1) The open primary system does not increase competition, at least not competition of ideas. All voters don't have an equal say, for example, in district 44, Republicans may have a vote, but they don't have a say. 2) Since they have no ideological competition, they don't really have to appeal to those of a different ideology. If one of them seems to, in order to court Republicans, the other will gain support among the Dem party base.
Scot Douglas While both candidates are Democrats, either one cannot win without the support of Independent and Republican voters. They both share the support of their own party, but must now appeal to those they have not had to appeal to in the past in order to win the election.
Glynda Dean Perrotte - The end result of the CA open primary and the goal of the primary was to increase competition in legislative races in California and allow all voters to have an equal say in elections. While it can't end partisanship in one election, it's a step in the right direction.
Uh, Independents and Republicans aren't having their voice heard. Whichever Dem wins will still vote Dem tax & spend policies in Sacto
We already have an 'open primary' system, according to the D's & R's. It's called Prop 14 or Top Two. And rhey LIED to everyone about the end result.
More and more races between members of the same party will discredit the party label. I think we do need to move away from party labels, so that's a good thing in my view. Voters can gradually look at stances on issues and policy positions instead of party platform.
"The new district also includes a high percentage of racial minority voters (including almost 50% Latino voters and nearly 30% black voters)" ---That doesn't sound like a racial minority to me; that sounds like nearly 80% of the votes...
I don't think Californians realize how big this is. CA went from having some of the least competitive races to being the most competitive state in the country. Having two incumbent candidates from the same party running in a district that is primarily Democratic forces them to listen and compromise. Lack of bipartisan efforts is what voters complain most about. Although the primary had low voter turnout, the results were huge.
These same-party races in California are fascinating. So many pundits and "news" reporters dismissed the Open Primary as inneffective, because they refused or just didn't think to believe that Open Primary wasn't about candidates. Now, these same party races, the voters with all the power are the opposite party voters and independents, forcing candidates that would otherwise have already locked up the seat in the primary to address the concerns of the entire electorate ... awesome.
The same-party incumbent races in California will be interesting to watch. Opposing party members and independents will play the biggest role in deciding the election and should keep the elected official accountable in the future.
I think this is a great point, Jane. And once Californians step it up with voter turnout and CA Reps learn to compromise and work together to benefit the state, we can make a HUGE impact on the country because of how big and populated our state is. We have 53 House Reps & Senate Reps; that's HUGE!
That's an interesting point Jane @jsusskind , the turnout was very low in this season's primary in California, but the results were huge. I think it is also important to note, however, that California's new "top-two" primary election system in combination with California's redistricting has resulted in a power shift for California's Congressional seats. There are 7 dem-dem races, 2 rep-rep, and 4 Congressional races in California that have an Independent candidate running for a seat.