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Vote Today In CA-36 Looks to Be a Small Hahn Victory

I haven’t commented on today’s special election in CA-36, my home district, but I’m so amused by these previews from the national media that I’m compelled to respond.

To get you up to speed, the race pits Janice Hahn, the establishment LA City Councilwoman and labor-backed candidate, against Craig Huey, a tea partier and direct mail specialist. Political observers are surprised by two points: A) that the race is as close as it is, and B) that Huey has received almost no support from national conservative groups.

These are not surprising things. Janice Hahn is a deeply uninspiring candidate. She beat out Democrats like Debra Bowen and Marcy Winograd in the primary because of a split vote on the left. Organizations like OfA, the California Democratic Party and even former Bowen staffers have been helping drag Hahn across the finish line since then, providing most of the volunteer base. Hahn has vowed to join the Progressive and Out of Afghanistan caucuses in Congress, but the race has been a bit of a snoozer.

That said, the Daily Kos poll for the race sounds about right. As Gene Maddaus notes, this race does have the feel of the State Assembly race in the district, where an establishment female Dem faced a Tea Party activist, and the Dem won by about 7 points. That’s a respectable showing for a Republican given the current shape of the district, but there’s a ceiling.

So why has Huey, armed with $800,000 of his own money and an array of direct-marketing strategies, not received that institutional support? The answer is that it’s very expensive to run a campaign here, and Hahn is likely to win anyway. Nobody went on broadcast television because it’s the second most-expensive media market in the country, and TV ads are non-existent for local races. Even that infamous stripper ad was Web-only. As for mailers, I think the guy who’s spent his entire life honing his technique in that arena has that covered. Conservative groups had the chance to throw money down a sinkhole or stay out of the race and hope to sneak Huey through. They probably chose wisely, particularly when you learn more about Huey:

Huey, meanwhile, has made good copy in his own right. His direct mail business has promoted all sorts of shady investment schemes and bogus nutritional supplements. His company website (, which for some reason is still online, is a gold mine of sleazy direct marketing techniques — such as, “motivate with fear” and tips on how to “disarm the skepticism” of old people.

My personal favorite was the “Obama Crisis Kit,” which leveraged fear of Obama to sell a gold mining penny stock. One of his campaign issues, oddly enough, is “nutritional freedom” — which he apparently defines as the right to make whatever health claim you want on behalf of snake oil remedies without interference from the “government bureaucrats” at the FDA. He’s the kind of guy that consumer protection regulations are written to impede.

Most recently, Huey was served with a court order for failing to make back child support payments. I don’t think the outside groups wanted to call much attention to him.

Tragedy struck the race when Janice Hahn’s mother Ramona, the matriarch of a longtime political clan in Los Angeles that includes two mayors (Janice’s late father and brother), died on Monday, a day before the election.

Overall, this looks to be a choice between a fairly bland career politician and a flim-flam man, and the career politician will win by single digits. And she’ll probably be a small step up from Jane Harman. Most important for the immediate term, it’s another Democratic vote on whatever, if anything, comes out of the debt limit talks.

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David Dayen

David Dayen