California Secretary of State Debra Bowen and progressive Democrat Marcy Winograd have officially declared their candidacy for the 36th District House seat being vacated by Jane Harman. City of Los Angeles councilmember Janice Hahn had previously declared. Calbuzz rightfully notes the race is now liberal vs. liberal vs. ultra-liberal, with Bowen being a wine-track Democrat vs. Hahn who is a beer-track Democrat. Winograd is to the left of Bowen and Hahn and has run for the seat twice as a protest against Harman. (The 36th is mostly beach cities and Republicans don’t have a chance of winning it. That’s just the reality of the situation.)
Hahn has the support of the downtown players, big labor, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and the like. Bowen’s support has always been from environmentalists and those backing leftish social causes. Plus, she’s lived in Venice for years and is well known. This home court advantage should not be underestimated. The beach cities are a different planet from downtown and feel no obligation to follow the lead of what downtown politicians are doing. While Hahn lives in San Pedro, which is also in the 36th, she doesn’t seem a part of the beach cities like Bowen does.
Winograd’s previous campaigns were specifically anti-war and anti-Harman. Hahn may have deliberately tried to draw Winograd into the race by getting Bowen to sign a pledge of agreement for Israel. Winograd is a strongly anti-Zionist Jew. If that was Hahn’s intent, it worked, and she no doubt hopes liberals and progressives will split their vote between Bowen and Winograd.
The new Top-Two election system for California puts some novel twists of election calculations because two highest vote-getters in the primary, regardless of party, will face each other in the general election. In a traditional race, Hahn would try to split the more liberal vote between her opponents and thus face a Republican in the general election. But that strategy doesn’t work with Top-Two. Since the 36th District is overwhelmingly Democratic and liberal, the probable outcome is Bowen and Hahn will be the candidates in the general election, with no Republican on the ballot.
Interestingly, a member of the Coffee Party is suing in federal court saying these new rules are discriminatory because he cannot be listed on the ballot as a member of his party. The Coffee Party does not have ballot status in California thus he can only be listed as “no party preference”, which he says puts him as a disadvantage. While at first glance it might seem unfair that he can’t list his party, where do you draw the line? With no rules what if someone ran and wanted his party affiliation to be “Nazi” or “Communist”? There might be a few kerfuffles about that.
Top-Two clearly favors whoever the dominant party is in an election district as the major opposition party as well as third parties will be shut out of the general election. It remains to be seen if this is an improvement or the previous system. However it does allow for the election to be settled in the primary. If one candidate gets a majority of the votes cast, then they are declared the winner and no general election is needed.