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Democrats lead GOP 2-0 in 2011 special elections

L.A. councilwoman wins race to succeed Harman in House

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The score after two 2011 special congressional elections: Democrats 2, Republicans 0.

California Democrat Janice Hahn won Tuesday's election to replace retiring Rep. Jane Harman in a coastal Los Angeles County district, defeating Republican businessman Craig Huey by a margin of 54 percent to 45 percent.

Any other outcome would have been considered an upset in a district in which Democrats enjoy an 18 percentage point voter-registration advantage and that President Obama won by 30 percentage points in 2008. Mrs. Harman, a Democrat, held the seat since 2001 before she stepped down to head the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Still, Mr. Huey, 61, a political newcomer backed by the tea party, ran a closer-than-expected race against the well-connected Mrs. Hahn, who has served for a decade on the Los Angeles City Council. Her father, Kenneth Hahn, was a longtime Los Angeles County supervisor, and her brother, James, served as Los Angeles mayor.

The race might be best remembered for an independently produced "rap" video that accused Mrs. Hahn of being soft on gangs, portraying her as a pole dancer giving dollar bills to gang members. The video was widely denounced as racist, including by Mr. Huey.

However, Republicans have a chance to even the score with two more special elections, both scheduled for Sept. 13.

In Nevada, voters will choose a successor to Republican Rep. Dean Heller, who was appointed by the governor to replace Sen. John Ensign. Mr. Ensign, a Republican, resigned in May amid an investigation of his efforts to cover up an affair the wife of a top aide.

Republican Mark Amodei, a former state senator, will face state Treasurer Kate Marshall. Mr. Amodei is running on a limited-government, Nevada-first platform, while Ms. Marshall is running an anti-Washington video that doesn't mention her party affiliation.

There's a reason for that: No Democrat has been elected in the 30-year history of Nevada's 2nd Congressional District, which encompasses the whole state minus the Las Vegas area.

A win by Ms. Marshall would constitute the most stunning Democratic special-election upset since, March, when Democrat Kathy Hochul won a New York seat that Republicans had held since 1970. Las Vegas political analyst Jon Ralston called Ms. Marshall's chances of success "not likely," adding that her best shot would be to emulate the Ms. Hochul's Medicare strategy.

"This is a very tough race for the Democrats, who have never won in this district," said Mr. Ralston in his July 11 Las Vegas Sun column. "Marshall will need to run a Mediscare campaign and hope any base dissatisfaction with Amodei because of his intermittently controversial legislative record minimizes GOP turnout."

The second Sept. 13 special election will be back in New York, where two candidates will vie to replace Rep. Anthony D. Weiner, the Democrat who stepped down in June amid a scandal about his explicit texts and photos to young women.

Republican Bob Turner, a retired movie executive who ran against Mr. Weiner in 2010, will square off against Democratic Assemblyman David Weprin in a race viewed as the Democrat's to lose. Still, there are signs of hope for Republicans: Mr. Turner took 40 percent of the vote in his 2010 bid, a surprisingly strong showing in the safe Democratic district.

The special election may hinge on Jewish voters, a reliable Democratic voting bloc that has been increasingly uneasy with President Obama's policies toward Israel. A Gallup poll released July 5 showed that only 51 percent of religious Jews support Mr. Obama, as opposed to 71 percent of nonreligious Jews.

Former New York Mayor Ed Koch recently urged Jewish voters to send "a shot across Obama's bow" by supporting Mr. Turner, according to the Jewish Week newspaper.

"If Jewish New Yorkers and others who support Israel were to turn away from the Democratic Party in that congressional election and elect the Republican candidate to Congress in 2011, it might very well cause President Obama to change his hostile position on the state of Israel and to re-establish the special relationship presidents before him had supported," Mr. Koch wrote in his weekly email commentary.

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