Sanford Kahn admits that 11-term Rep. Glenn M. Anderson would be a hard man to beat. But he says that doesn't mean other candidates have to knuckle under.
"I don't care if he talks to the Lord every day," Kahn said. "No one should be in Congress 22 years. . . . I am against the professional politician."
Kahn is one of four gritty Republicans competing for the right to run against U.S. Reps. Anderson (D-San Pedro) in the 32nd District and Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica) in the 27th District--two of the most entrenched of the South Bay's congressional incumbents.
In Tuesday's primaries, Kahn, a gas company salesman from Long Beach, and Jerry Bakke, an insurance agent and former labor leader from Wilmington, will square off to decide who takes on Anderson. Competing to challenge Levine will be West Los Angeles attorney David Barrett Cohen and Playa del Rey computer salesman Hans Yeager.
Though all four men say they could play the role of giant-killer in the Nov. 6 general election, the odds are that the best they can hope for is serving as a sacrificial lamb.
Incumbent congressmen running for reelection these days lose less than 5% of the time. Neither Anderson nor Levine faces primary opposition, and both are running in solidly Democratic districts.
But the Republican candidates are making arguments aimed at turning this predicament to their advantage. "We have got to loosen the stranglehold incumbents have on office," Cohen said. "It is threatening the democratic system."
The two GOP contests are not the South Bay's only congressional primaries Tuesday. Of the five congressional districts covering the area, only the one represented by Julian C. Dixon (D-Los Angeles) is free from primary competition.
Three Democrats are competing to take on U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Lomita)--computer industry publisher James Cavuoto of Torrance, political science instructor Guy C. Kimbrough of Huntington Beach and retired teacher Bryan W. Stevens of Rolling Hills Estates.
Two other Democrats, have a primary date with U.S. Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Compton)--former Compton College Trustee Carl E. Robinson Sr. of Carson and Inglewood attorney Lawrence A. Grigsby.
Like all these Democratic challengers, the Republicans vying for Anderson's and Levine's seats are little-known, sparsely financed candidates hoping to overcome the power of incumbency. In the cases of Anderson and Levine, that power is immense.
Levine, rumored to be interested in running for the U.S. Senate, has established himself as a prolific fund-raiser during his four terms in Congress. His nearly $1.5 million in campaign cash on hand at the end of 1989 ranked as the largest pot of any House member. Only three congressmen managed to top the $1-million mark.
Anderson, chairman of the powerful Public Works and Transportation Committee, holds extensive political IOUs after years of steering major federal projects to his district.
In their contest to face Anderson in the 32nd Congressional District, Kahn and Bakke are campaigning in terrain that includes San Pedro, Lomita, Lakewood, Hawaiian Gardens and parts of Long Beach, Bellflower and Downey.
Kahn, 46, was the Republican standard-bearer in 1988, but he lost to Anderson by more than a 2-1 margin. This year he is facing tough competition from Bakke, 49, a former truckers union organizer who owns a Wilmington insurance business.
Bakke says his main reason for running is his concern that not enough containers shipped to the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor are examined for drugs and excessive weight before being loaded on trucks. He charges that Anderson is overly concerned with financing large construction projects in the district and not enough with local problems such as drugs and crime.
"He basically doesn't represent anybody here except developers," Bakke said. "There's drugs, there's gangs, there's crime going on all over the cities, but he's totally removed himself."
Kahn says his top priorities are to push legislation limiting the number of terms congressmen can serve to five and to support changes in the tax system--such as a cut in the capital gains tax--to promote saving and investment.
Kahn, who reports raising $2,000 so far, admits he is being outspent by Bakke, who says he has collected $7,000. Such sums represent a fraction of the cost of an effective districtwide campaign, but both men say they could give Anderson a fight in the general election by questioning the support he receives from political action committees.
"I'm a citizen politician," Kahn said. "I'll ask, 'Who is (Anderson) going to be answering to?' "
Cohen and Yeager are waging an equally under-financed fight in Levine's 27th Congressional District, which embraces Terminal Island, part of Torrance, Lawndale, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, El Segundo, part of Inglewood, and continues north into the Westside.
Cohen, who is part Jewish and part Samoan, says he is trying to assemble a "rainbow on the right," a movement aimed at getting a range of ethnic groups in the 27th District interested in Republican positions.
The 30-year-old candidate says he favors tackling poverty by creating more low-tax enterprise zones for private industry in low-income areas, rather than relying on government welfare programs. On the Mideast, he says he would support the creation of a Palestinian state.
"I am a very strong supporter of Israel, but I think we will never achieve peace unless we're able to accommodate the legitimate concerns of the Palestinian people."
Yeager, 27, says his top priority as congressman would be to cut the federal budget deficit as part of a strategy to reduce the upward pressure on interest rates and promote economic growth.
He declares himself against tax increases but says he would support boosting select levies such as alcohol and cigarette surcharges in return for government spending cuts as part of a compromise on deficit reduction.
Yeager faults Cohen for holding to an anti-tax position without specifying exactly how he would address the issue of deficit reduction and economic growth.
"Everywhere we . . . speak he talks about all the different races he's bringing together," Yeager said. But on economic issues, "I haven't really heard what he is trying to do."
Of the two candidates, Cohen is the better financed. He says he has raised $14,000, while Yeager reports collecting only $3,000. Despite the scarce funds, Cohen and Yeager, like Bakke and Kahn in the 32nd District, say they could use incumbency as an effective issue in the general election.
Cohen proposes a limit on campaign spending, a ban on contributions from political action committees and a six-term limit for House members. He also criticizes congressional mailing privileges.
"This is one of the unfair advantages of incumbency we're going to have to do away with if we're going to have true democracy," Cohen said.