In this, an election year of almost rabid anti-incumbency, it would seem that attorney Mark A. Robbins has a real opportunity to win a plum congressional seat representing much of the Westside and southern San Fernando Valley.
Robbins, 33, is a "fiscally responsive but socially aware" pro-choice candidate waging a well-financed and politically sophisticated campaign against an incumbent forced to run in an unfamiliar new district.
As an openly gay candidate, Robbins can count on some support from progressives and gay voters in Silverlake, West Hollywood and Santa Monica. And the fact that his opponent is a veteran congressman who bounced 434 checks in the House bank scandal--and who is at the very heart of the Capitol Hill political Establishment--doesn't hurt either. The incumbent, Robbins never tires of saying, "represents all that's wrong with the political system today."
Yet, political analysts give Robbins and three other candidates in the 29th Congressional District race little or no chance of winning. The reason: They are running against Rep. Henry A. Waxman, one of the most recognized and well-funded liberal politicians in the nation.
Waxman, 53, who is seeking a 10th term, is widely expected to trounce all opposition in the newly created district that runs from Santa Monica and the Pacific Palisades through Beverly Hills, Brentwood and Bel-Air, north into the Santa Monica Mountains, Sherman Oaks and Studio City and east into Hollywood and Los Feliz.
So confident is Waxman of winning that he is spending little time campaigning, and most of his massive campaign war chest is being used to help other liberal Democrats in reelection bids. And even though he has never represented 60% of those living in the new district, Waxman doesn't even have a campaign manager, no less a reelection staff.
"I don't expect to spend a tremendous amount of money on my reelection campaign," Waxman said. "I just think I have to introduce myself to many new voters, and I plan to do that."
According to Waxman, voters ultimately will see through the anti-incumbency fever, and his bounced checks--he calls them "overdrafts" and says they were a legal perk accorded to everyone in Congress--and vote for him because of his accomplishments.
The diminutive, soft-spoken Los Angeles native wields more power on Capitol Hill than almost any other member of the House of Representatives. He has used his longstanding position as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health and the environment to protect and strengthen the Clean Air Act and acid rain legislation and to get billions of dollars allocated for health care and AIDS programs and research.
This campaign season, Waxman plans to stump for a national health insurance program, a higher priority for women's health issues such as breast and ovarian cancer and osteoporosis, better family planning policies and more AIDS funding.
"The Bush Administration has just ignored the problem of AIDS, put it on the back burner and acted as if it is not a major national concern," Waxman said.
A shrewd political operator, Waxman made sure that he was first in line for the crown jewel of Westside congressional districts when four of five "safe" Democratic districts were collapsed into an ultra-safe one during the recent redistricting process.
Even in a district so overwhelmingly liberal (56% are registered Democrats), at least one of Waxman's competitors--Robbins--remains upbeat.
Robbins of West Hollywood is running as a Republican, hoping that conservatives will vote for him because of his experience as a White House aide with President Reagan. He says Democrats west of La Cienega Boulevard are ready to turn their backs on Waxman and the Democratic political machine that backs him for sending their former Democratic congressman, Anthony C. Beilenson, off into a Valley district. And he accuses Waxman of ignoring the gay community.
"There isn't anyone who supports the system right now, and Henry Waxman is a very clear symbol of the system," said Robbins, who has budgeted $150,000 for his campaign. "We may just squeak in and stage an upset of national importance."
Robbins wants term limits for members of Congress, elimination of special interest PAC funding and a restriction on campaign donations that limits them to voters from within a district.
Also running are Independent David Davis, Peace and Freedom Party candidate Susan C. Davies and Libertarian Felix Tsvi Rogin.
Where: The district includes Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Los Feliz, Santa Monica, Universal City and West Hollywood, and portions of Sherman Oaks, Studio City and Toluca Lake. To find out if you live in the district, call the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder's office at (213) 721-1100.
Henry A. Waxman, Democrat, congressman
Mark A. Robbins, Republican,attorney
Susan C. Davies, Peace and Freedom, social worker
Felix Tsvi Rogin, Libertarian, rabbi, accountant