- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2000

LOS ANGELES The names Adam Schiff, Mike Honda and Susan Davis mean little just now, even to the most dedicated of political junkies.

But if they win this fall and are joined in the winner's circle by the better-known former Rep. Jane Harman, there's a good chance Democrats could regain control of the House for the first time since the "Republican Revolution" of 1994.

House Democrats need a net gain of six seats to take over, and they hope these four California candidates Democrats running for Republican-occupied seats provide that. Republicans, meanwhile, have no solid prospects of taking any current California Democratic seats.

Mrs. Harman served three terms in Congress from a swing district along the coast of Los Angeles County in the early and mid-1990s, giving up her seat to run unsuccessfully for governor two years ago. The other three are longtime Democratic state legislators about as well known in the districts they seek to represent as the Republicans they're trying to unseat.

"We have four seats here that are very winnable," says Jon Del Cecato, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Because of the national significance of these essentially local races, money likely will be no object.

Take the tight contest between Mr. Schiff, a state senator, and Republican Rep. James E. Rogan in a district covering Glendale, Pasadena and the northeast suburbs of Los Angeles. Mr. Schiff, whose state Senate district encompasses the entire congressional district and a little more, outpolled Mr. Rogan in the primary by 2,500 votes, or about 2 percent of all votes cast. Neither had any intraparty opposition.

Voters in the district have told pollsters repeatedly they care less about Mr. Rogan's prominent prosecutorial role in last year's impeachment trial of President Clinton than they do about safe neighborhoods, schools, traffic and open space. That's one reason Mr. Rogan has been pushing to get $46 million in federal highway funds to clear a constant traffic snarl at the northern terminus of the Long Beach Freeway (Interstate 710) in south Pasadena.

This contest figures to be most expensive, as Mr. Rogan had raised $3.8 million for his campaign by April 15 and Mr. Schiff had gathered $1.9 million.

But money may turn out to be less important here than demographics or sheer fighting spirit. "The problem Rogan has is that his district is going south on him," said Republican campaign consultant Allan Hoffenblum. As Hispanic and Armenian immigrants have moved into areas that once were solidly Republican, the GOP's voter registration in the district has dropped 7 percent since 1994 and Democrats now outnumber them 44 percent to 37 percent, with the remainder independent.

Mr. Rogan says he knows he's in for a fight. "They're going to find out this ex-district attorney knows how to take a punch and how to deliver one, too," he told one fund-raising dinner in Fresno, 250 miles north of his district.

Mrs. Harman and her Republican opponent, Rep. Steve Kuykendall, are also in for a battle. Long known as a centrist Democrat, Mrs. Harman won each of her three terms by narrow margins in a district that most analysts considered Republican when its boundaries were drawn in 1990.

In a race with few policy differences between the candidates, Mrs. Harman had raised $835,000 since last December and the March 30 reporting date. Mr. Kuykendall, a former state assemblyman and a pro-choice Republican, had collected $821,000.

The most-watched Northern California race comes for the Silicon Valley seat abandoned by Republican Tom Campbell, now seeking to unseat Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

President Clinton personally recruited state Assemblyman Mike Honda for this race, while national Republican Party leaders anointed another assemblyman, Jim Cunneen, as their candidate. The seat was held for almost 20 years by Democratic Rep. Norman Mineta before Mr. Campbell took it in a special election following Mr. Mineta's surprise retirement to become a lobbyist in 1995.

Both candidates easily defeated intraparty opponents in the primary, but Mr. Honda drew almost 10,000 more votes than Mr. Cunneen, and the overall Democratic edge here was 62 percent to 39 percent.

Despite those results, Republicans remain optimistic about the fall outcome. "Cunneen's fiscal conservatism and moderation on social issues fall right in synch with that district," said California Rep. David Dreier, chairman of the House Rules Committee and a former head of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee.

Mr. Honda also gets vocal support from leading national figures in his party. House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island both have written funding appeals for him.

About 450 miles to the south, Republican incumbent Rep. Brian P. Bilbray acts worried, but appears to have a solid chance of beating Mrs. Davis and holding onto his seat.

He outpolled the Democrat by 2,000 votes in the primary and has positioned himself carefully in a district with almost as many registered independents as Democrats or Republicans.

"Nobody wants to seem like an extremist anymore in California," says Republican consultant Arnold Steinberg. "It's become a state where the independents increasingly decide election outcomes."

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