Once again, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Rolling Hills) had tapped one of her Washington friends for a visit to her district. This time it was CIA Director James Woolsey.
As the congresswoman introduced Woolsey at a recent gathering, she quipped: "Some of you think I know everybody. I don't know everybody. I just know everybody good."
On paper, Harman would seem to have potent weapons in her race for a second term--and connections with Washington powerbrokers is just one. She can also draw upon adept fund raising, her personal wealth, her two powerful committee posts and her host of endorsements from aerospace executives and police chiefs in the 36th Congressional District.
But in this election year, Harman's arsenal doesn't pack the usual punch--even with an opponent, Rancho Palos Verdes Councilwoman Susan Brooks, who was all but unknown before the primary and has far less campaign cash. This time around, Harman is something that poll after poll says the electorate doesn't like: an incumbent, a D.C. insider and a Democrat.
"It is what is making this race so much harder," even if incumbents such as Harman "make the system work," said political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, senior associate at the Center for Politics and Economics at Claremont Graduate School.
In other congressional races in the South Bay: Freshman Rep. Steve Horn (R-Long Beach) faces a strong challenge from Cypress College professor Peter Mathews in the 38th District. In the 37th District, Rep. Walter R. Tucker III (D-Compton), indicted in August on bribery charges, is being challenged by merchant seaman Guy Wilson, a Libertarian. In the 35th District, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) is expected to easily win reelection against Republican computer graphics designer Nate Truman.
36th Congressional District
The Brooks-Harman race has drawn national attention.
Said Ben Sheffner, assistant editor of the Cook Political Report in Washington: "Harman is one of the purest examples of a candidate who won based on the strength of the Democrats and Bill Clinton in 1992 but will be hurt by their relative weakness in 1994."
Seizing on the situation is Brooks, a fierce campaigner who has seen her insurgent bid bolstered by visits from GOP stalwarts and money from the National Republican Congressional Committee. Complicating matters for Harman, Brooks does not present an easy target on the issues. Like Harman, for example, she supports abortion rights, making it far harder for Harman to use that issue to peel away moderate GOP votes.
"I've had no illusions about this race," said Harman, who also faces American Independent Joseph G. Fields and Libertarian Jack Tyler. "I've detected the anger (of the electorate). You go to the League of Women Voters event, and there are angry people. And they are unforgiving. It's, 'If you disagree with me today, it doesn't matter what else you did.' But I think constituents are fairly well informed, and I think that people want to be constructive. And I'm running a campaign to appeal to the positive in people."
After her election two years ago, Harman moved quickly to build a record she could run on. She secured a post on the House Armed Services Committee, which has served her well in gaining the near-unanimous support of the district's aerospace executives. Harman, a onetime aide to President Jimmy Carter who later worked as a corporate attorney in Washington, also used the committee position to wade into defense issues important to the district.
Harman also landed a post on the Science, Space and Technology Committee.
She teamed with Horn to save the C-17 cargo plane, built by McDonnell Douglas Corp. in Long Beach, and lobbied then-Defense Secretary Les Aspin to keep the Los Angeles Air Force Base off the military's base closure list. Earlier this month, she was at the White House as President Clinton signed a bill to reform the defense procurement system.
Her track record, however, may not help her much--especially since her Democratic base appears far less energized compared to 1992, when Clinton was at the top of the ticket, poised to take the White House.
"I would probably give Jane Harman a slight edge, given the inroads she has made with the business community," said political analyst Sheffner. "I suspect that if people identify Jane Harman (with) saving jobs, that will help her. But it's not easy to get the message out. And you have to remember that this is a Republican district, part of which used to send Bob Dornan to Congress."
Indeed, Brooks says that Rep. Robert K. Dornan (who now represents a district based in Garden Grove) nicknamed her "B-2 Sue," a takeoff on his nickname of "B-1 Bob." In her campaign, Brooks has tried to tag Harman as a carpetbagger who is partly to blame for a "defense meltdown." Harman voted for Clinton's defense budgets, which cost the district jobs, she says.
"What people in America are screaming for is, 'We don't want these insider people anymore because they are screwing up the country big-time,' " said Brooks, a former special-education teacher who grew up in Long Island, N.Y.
She says she flirted with liberalism in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when she studied to be a teacher at Columbia University. But she became a conservative, she said, because she learned from her experience as a teacher that government cannot solve all problems.
"We were out to save the world," she said of her first teaching job, as a special-education instructor in Harlem. Once, as she went to tutor a student in one of the projects, she was accosted by several gang members. So she just started having a conversation with herself. Her assailants thought she was crazy and ran off, she says.
She says her "fire in the gut" style helped her when she and her husband, Jim, moved to Rancho Palos Verdes in 1985. She unsuccessfully fought the closure of Marineland, organized a Neighborhood Watch program and worked on a committee to keep local schools open. That led her to a seat on the city's Planning Commission and, in 1991, on the City Council. Her tenure has had its raucous moments, including when she voted to cut the city's recreation programs to balance the budget. She points out, however, that local groups have continued most of the programs.
But on the campaign trail, her subject is primarily Harman and Clinton--specifically, Harman's vote for Clinton's deficit-reduction plan, which included income tax increases aimed at high earners. (Harman's campaign responded by giving Brooks a candy bar, a reminder that she was among the City Council members who urged state officials not to revoke the state snack tax in 1992.)
Faced with the Brooks broadsides, Harman is using the campaign stretch--and her considerable resources--to portray herself as above the partisan fray. Last week, she launched a series of broadcast television advertisements, one of which describes her as "tough, independent and on our side." In the ad, Harman makes no mention of Clinton and says: "My party leadership isn't always happy with me."
And although recent polls suggest that Clinton's popularity has picked up, it is unclear how much that will help Harman.
Said political analyst Jeffe: "It's clear that there appears to be a turnaround (to) some extent, but the question is: How dramatic?"
Democrats smell an upset of freshman Horn despite national trends that suggest the GOP could make substantial gains on Election Day.
Registration figures in the district, which includes San Pedro and parts of Wilmington, favor the Democrats, and Mathews has raised enough money to run a strong campaign and has galvanized a corps of youthful volunteers.
"Can Horn really represent the middle-class and working-class people of the district, given his philosophy?" asks Mathews, a Cypress college associate professor, citing the incumbent's opposition to social spending. Mathews would become the first person who traces their heritage to India in Congress since 1963.
Seasoned political observers, however, are skeptical of the Democrat's chances. They note that Horn, in winning the seat two years ago, showed that his generally moderate views are attractive to many registered Democrats.
Horn also has local successes to point to: He was a visible leader in the successful effort to keep the Long Beach Naval Shipyard operating as the federal base-closing commission announced shutdowns elsewhere.
"I've kept every promise," said Horn, a former president of Cal State Long Beach. "And I've worked hard to help the country and the people of our district."
Also on the ballot are Libertarian Lester W. Mueller and Peace and Freedom candidate Richard K. Green.
Tucker, running in a district that includes Carson, Wilmington and parts of San Pedro, has directed most of his energy to defending himself against charges that he took $30,000 in bribes during his tenure as Compton's mayor. He pleaded not guilty in September.
"The indictment is not a secret to anyone," he said. "The people who are supporting me are supporting me in spite of (the) indictment, and that has been very positive."
Tucker's troubles have invigorated the race of Libertarian Guy Wilson, a merchant seaman who is his only challenger. Wilson has raised more than $19,000, a rare feat for a third-party challenger, and bought more than 30 billboards.
Among Wilson's ideas is repealing the 16th Amendment, which established the income tax, and issuing vouchers to parents so they can send their children to either public or private schools.
"I would give people the opportunity to uplift themselves," Wilson said.
San Pedro businessman Lew Prulitsky has also launched a write-in campaign.
"There's always someone in the wings willing to run, particularly if there's someone in trouble, going through tough times," Tucker said.
He added, "Believe you me, this is the big leagues. There needs to be someone educated, someone qualified, someone who cares and grew up in the district."
As examples of his accomplishments, Tucker said that he has been able to secure a new transportation manufacturing plant in Carson and a youth center in Compton.
He doesn't have to worry about reelection, political analysts say. Prulitsky was handily beaten by Tucker in the Democratic primary, despite news reports that the congressman would be indicted.
"A lot of, shall we say, controversial news accompanied us even into the primary," Tucker said. "We weathered that storm and, with God's help, we will fight another battle."
Waters is expected to have an easy victory in one of the state's most heavily Democratic districts. It includes Gardena, Hawthorne and Inglewood.
Waters' opponent, Republican businessman Nate Truman, ran against her in 1992, and she beat him handily.
"No one's campaigning here," said Truman, owner of a computer graphics company. "Republicans have in a lot of ways written (the district) off. Everyone's written these people off, so with my candidacy at least they have a choice between two ideologies."
Among the many issues that divide them is Proposition 187, which would bar government services to illegal immigrants. Truman supports it and Waters opposes it.