Last night, in a mild upset, self-funded Republican businessman Craig Huey is headed to the runoff as of right now in the special election in CA-36, the first under the new “jungle primary” rules. With all precincts reporting, LA City Councilwoman Janice Hahn took 24.7% of the vote, with Huey at 21.9%, beating Secretary of State Debra Bowen by just 206 votes for second place. Because nobody received over 50%, as of right now Hahn and Huey would go to a runoff in July.

There are still 9,811 provisionals and late absentee ballots left to count, enough to change the outcome. Bowen campaign manager Dan Chavez made this statement:

“This has been a very spirited campaign and it remains very close. There are 9,811 ballots that still need to be processed – more than enough to make up the difference. We are confident Debra Bowen will be in the runoff.”

It’s certainly possible that Bowen will make up the difference. After all absentee ballots were counted – roughly 25,500 ballots – she led Huey by over 800 votes. So if she does as well with late absentees as she did with these absentees, she would be able to get 206 votes.

If the race ends up inside 1/2 of 1%, there’s a provision for a sample recount, but after that it’s unclear.

Huey spent $500,000 of his own money in the special election and obviously distinguished himself as the main Republican alternative, Redondo Beach Mayor Mike Gin, getting 7.8%. On the Democratic side, Marcy Winograd, who ran in primaries twice in this district, took 9%. Hahn ran a series of attack mailers of questionable veracity in the campaign’s final week intended to raise Bowen’s negatives; we know now that her campaign must have believed that Huey could overtake Bowen and make the runoff.

This has led many people to assume that Winograd played spoiler in the race, splitting votes on the left with Bowen and allowing machine Democrat Hahn to win the primary. Which Huey sneaking into the runoff, this has taken more significance.

However, Bowen made a huge blunder right at the start that, if this holds, may have cost her the election. It concerns how Winograd got into the race.

The day after Bowen announced, Janice Hahn wrote a “pledge” about support for Israel and asked Bowen to sign it. The pledge denounced Winograd for her beliefs on Israel; in fact, it all but said “Fuck Marcy Winograd” on it. It was clear that Hahn was trying to bait Winograd to enter the race.

Bowen could have written the Hahn campaign back, “I share your support for the state of Israel, but I don’t see why we have to demonize some unrelated individual for stating her opinion, especially Marcy Winograd, who you called looking for an endorsement the day Jane Harman resigned, Janice. So here’s my pledge that I want you to sign, supporting Israel and freedom of speech.”

Instead, Bowen immediately signs the “Fuck Marcy Winograd” pledge, essentially begging Marcy to get into the race. It was a dirty trick by Hahn, but Bowen took the bait and Winograd entered the race. Maybe she would have entered the race anyway and the pledge was just an excuse. But if she was wavering about it, that pledge was the last straw. And scared off by the Israel boogeyman, Bowen handed her that invitation. If I find one person in this district who voted for a candidate in this election based on their position on Israel, I’d be shocked.

It was a stupid, stupid political move and it appears to have come back to bite her.

David Dayen

David Dayen