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GOP Mayor Fires First Shot in Battle to Unseat Rep. Harman : Politics: Susan Brooks of Rancho Palos Verdes starts line for June primary. Eager Republicans say Democratic lawmaker is vulnerable in 36th District.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

State Republican leaders, who have vowed to place top priority on unseating Rep. Jane Harman (D-Marina Del Rey) next year, say that as many as five GOP candidates are expected to run in the 36th District primary in June.

On Monday, Rancho Palos Verdes Mayor Susan Brooks became the first candidate to launch her campaign to represent the district, which stretches from Marina del Rey to San Pedro.

Torrance psychiatrist and political newcomer Irwin Savodnik, 52, said Wednesday that he intends to announce his bid for the seat within two weeks. Three other challengers also might run, but state Republican officials would not identify them.

The district has a substantial Republican population, with 44% of the voters registered as Republicans and 42% as Democrats. Still, experts consider the Republicans in the district more independent, a situation that some believe helped Harman win.

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Harman took office at a time when the district was reeling from the post-Cold War loss of defense-related jobs. Unemployment has hit the South Bay especially hard because of the region’s high concentration of aerospace companies and Harman says retaining and creating jobs remains her priority.

Republican leaders said they believe the lingering recession coupled with Harman’s support of President Clinton’s economic plan, which includes tax increases particularly unpopular with Republican voters, will make her vulnerable.

“Jane Harman got there on a fluke,” said John Peschong, communications director of the California Republican Party. “Taxes. That’s what is going to crush her.”

Brooks made a similar assertion in her speech at a $250-a-plate luncheon attended by about 75 people, including former Reagan Administration aide Lyn Nofziger.

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In her speech at the Torrance Marriott, Brooks linked Harman to liberal factions of the Democratic Party and called her out of touch with the South Bay’s electorate.

“We’re back to that same old story--we heard it from President Bush--tax and spend, tax and spend,” Brooks told supporters, including members of the California Lincoln Club, a group of Republican professionals. “It’s having more and more meaning now. Jane Harman and her fellow Democrats just don’t get the message.”

State Democrats say that Republicans will have a tough time beating Harman, who as a freshman has gained coveted positions on House committees, including Armed Services and Science, Space and Technology. In June, she helped to arrange Vice President Al Gore’s visit to TRW in Redondo Beach, where he held a town hall meeting with aerospace workers. Harman also has introduced legislation that would provide Pentagon contractors with tax breaks and other incentives to convert their operations. The House Ways and Means Committee is expected to take up the measure sometime this fall, Harman has said.

“Has she gotten the attention of the White House?” said state Democratic Party political director Bob Mulholland. “The answer is yes.

“The Republican domination of defense issues is over,” he added. “Jane and her staff have clearly done their homework.”

But in her speech, Brooks, a former marketing consultant elected to the council in 1991, said that Harman sided with other Democrats “whose real agenda is to demilitarize the military.”

“To cover her true intentions,” Brooks said, “Harman throws a few defense crumbs to companies in the South Bay, including TRW, hoping she can buy votes in a district committed to national defense.”

For his part, Savodnik said that he was formulating a job program that would find employment for displaced defense workers. “There is a need for jobs here that is greater than any other time since the Great Depression,” he said.

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Abortion rights, a key issue in the Harman-Joan Milke Flores race, seems unlikely to arise next year. Both Brooks and Savodnik support abortion rights, as does Harman. Some Republicans say that Flores lost votes because of her anti-abortion stance.


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