Independents could be the deciding factor in today’s CD-36 special election

As the tense race between Los Angeles city councilwoman Janice Hahn and businessman Craig Huey comes to a close today, Independents in California’s 36th congressional district will be able to demonstrate their electoral prowess in a campaign that’s been closer than expected.

The latest poll numbers from Public Policy Polling demonstrate that Hahn’s projected advantage over her opponent Huey is currently down to single digits, holding to as much as an eight point advantage. In the poll, she leads Huey by 52%- 44%. Still undecided is a small but potentially influential 4%. Throw in a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9% and Huey’s proximity to Hahn could be a lot closer than expected. 

This is where Independent voters can play a significant role in influencing an election that came as a result of the newly implemented top-two open primary system. Human Events conservative political reporter John Gizzi has noted that while Democrats outnumber Republicans by 45%-27% district wide, another 20% of registered voters in the district are registered as “Decline to State.” In essence, Independents could make up a sizable chunk of the winning candidate’s share of votes.

California voters as a whole have traditionally been faithful to liberal candidates, and with the South Bay’s constituents leaning Democrat by a double digit margin over Republican, Hahn has pulled in the big whigs like former president Bill Clinton to help fundraise.  However, if Independents pull for Huey in the end, then this very contest could be viewed as a vote against the political establishment. Even with President Clinton endorsing Hahn, it is a bit surprising that the race is as close as it is at this point. Gizzi has noted that the 36th district has ordinarily been very blue, having voted for now President Barack Obama by a 30 point margin and for candidate John Kerry by 20 points.

The Daily Kos, which initially commissioned the Public Policy Polling data, is banking on election day turnout to favor Hahn and propel her to victory. In its blog post citing poll data, however, the liberal blog seems to conveniently gloss over the fact that Independent voters favor Huey over Hahn by 50%-40%. Ten percent of Independents polled for today’s race are still undecided. 

The Public Policy Poll’s sample included 619 likely voters and was conducted July 8, 2011- July 10, 2011.