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Rogan Emphasizes ‘I-Word’ in Close Race With Schiff

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Against the advice of his campaign advisors, Republican U.S. Rep. James E. Rogan won’t stop talking about his prominent role in last year’s impeachment trial of President Clinton.

The two-term congressman from Glendale even had the idea for a poster that features a photograph of the 13 Republicans in the House of Representatives who served as prosecutors during the trial. Most are wearing somber expressions, but Rogan, standing in the center, is smiling.

Rogan hands out the posters, paid for with campaign funds, to party activists, volunteers and even the national political reporters drawn by what probably is the most widely watched House race in the nation this year: Rogan’s fight against Democratic state Sen. Adam Schiff of Burbank for the markedly changing 27th Congressional District.

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The president’s impeachment in the wake of the White House sex scandal and subsequent Senate trial (he was acquitted) were highly unpopular in that Democratic-leaning district, which includes Burbank, Glendale and most of Pasadena as well as several smaller communities in Los Angeles’ northeast suburbs.

Rogan knows that. But, with barely a month to go till election day, he won’t back away from the impeachment issue.

“My campaign folks tried for months to get me never to talk about the ‘I-word.’ I systematically refused,” said Rogan, 43, a high school dropout, former prosecutor and judge who claims to love a good political fight.

Proudly wearing bargain suits on his lanky frame and sporting an unfashionable haircut, the illegitimate son of a bartender and cocktail waitress parlayed a forceful personality, an ability to work a crowd and razor-sharp rhetoric into a fast-track political career. And those same qualities helped put him in demand on the news and conservative talk show circuits for months during the impeachment.

“It’s part of my record. It’s not the whole record, but being silent might somehow communicate that I am sorry. . . .

“It was history, important history, and it was for a principle,” said Rogan, who donated the original poster to the Smithsonian Institution, along with his impeachment trial notes. “If I lose, I won’t enjoy having to pack up and move out of my office, but I will move out with my head held high.”

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Shifting Demographics

But if Rogan does find himself out of a job, it is not just impeachment that he should blame, political analysts say.

Shifting demographics almost certainly would have led national Democratic leaders to target the seat as one of the seven they need to recapture the House majority they lost in 1994, said longtime Republican consultant Allan Hoffenblum. Impeachment made Democrats all the more determined to recruit a top-tier candidate such as Schiff.

“Rogan is up against two opponents--Adam Schiff and the district,” said Hoffenblum, who now publishes the nonpartisan, campaign-tracking California Target Book.

Hoffenblum is among several analysts here and in Washington who give a slight edge to Schiff, a former federal prosecutor elected to the state Senate in 1996.

Once solidly Republican, the area has been electing Democrats (who hold a 44%-37% registration edge over Republicans) with increasing frequency. Entertainment and technology occupations have replaced defense industry jobs, attracting younger voters not usually drawn to a conservative Republican. A large Armenian American community has developed in Glendale, spurring activism in both major parties. Once predominantly white neighborhoods have growing numbers of Latinos, blacks and Asians.

Rogan’s antiabortion, pro-gun lobby record does not match voters’ views, polling and voting patterns indicate. (Rogan calls his positions “very mainstream and in line with the district.”)

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“This race, like every other congressional race, comes down to local issues and local dynamics, including a dramatic demographic shift. It is not about impeachment,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe of the School of Politics and Economics at Claremont Graduate University.

Schiff, 40, recognizes that. His campaign has emphasized his own legislative record on issues ranging from airport noise in Burbank to getting a light rail line to Pasadena to reining in development of Glendale’s hillsides. He attacks Rogan for his vote against a major patients-rights bill and for wanting to allow some private investment of Social Security taxes. He used the impeachment issue to help raise funds but rarely mentions it on the campaign trail.

“People are more interested in the issues,” Schiff said. “I think voters want to get away from the strong partisanship we’ve seen in Congress and elect someone with a good record of working in a bipartisan way to find solutions.”

Schiff likes to note that he wrote 40 bills in his first two years, all signed into law by then-Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican. He has a list of endorsements from local Republican elected officials, and some of them have hosted meet-Schiff coffees in their homes.

Rogan focuses on trying to paint Schiff as a free-spending liberal too beholden to the teachers unions to effect meaningful school reform.

“I’m licking my chops. I can’t wait to expose his leftist record,” Rogan said.

The battle has been waged for months already, using well-financed mail and cable TV commercials.

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Thanks to the impeachment, both candidates have raised millions of dollars from donors across the country. Rogan expects to spend at least $6 million on the race, including the primary, raised from a donor base of 55,000, said campaign manager Jason C. Roe.

National Donor Base

Schiff, virtually unknown outside his state Senate district when he entered the race early in 1999, now has a national donor base of 31,000 and anticipates spending $4.5 million by the Nov. 7 election, Schiff consultant Parke Skelton said.

Those amounts don’t include the anticipated large sums spent independently by interest groups. For example, a pharmaceutical industry-backed group, Citizens for Better Medicare, included Rogan among the 18 House incumbents across the nation for whom it has made and aired cable television ads.

Schiff has received help, also in the form of cable ads, from the AFL-CIO. Earlier in the campaign, he got help from the League of Conservation Voters and from MoveOn.Com, an Internet organization formed after the impeachment trial.

Impeachment also has drawn unparalleled national media attention to the Rogan-Schiff race, one of up to about four dozen close contests across the country whose outcomes will determine which party controls the House next year.

A network television news crew and reporters from the Baltimore Sun, USA Today and the New York Times watched recently as Rogan and Schiff pounded away at each other during their first joint appearance of the campaign.

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Right after the Oct. 15 forum, before a packed school auditorium in La Canada Flintridge, the two candidates, adrenaline still pumping, were asked to step into a classroom and pose together for a newspaper magazine. “I told him, ‘I’ve made you famous,’ ” quipped Rogan.

The district’s demographics don’t bother him, Rogan says. He points out that Democrats already had achieved their voter registration edge in 1996, when he first narrowly won the seat. And he also faced long odds in 1994 when he won a state Assembly seat in the area.

“I’ve always run as a minority Republican and I’ve always won,” said Rogan. “The leftist pundits were saying exactly the same things about me six years ago, four years ago, two years ago.” (Libertarian Ted Brown and Miriam R. Hospodar of the Natural Law Party also are running.)

Rogan uses his up-by-the-bootstraps story to connect with voters: how his mother was convicted of welfare fraud. How he was raised in the Bay Area by a great-aunt on Social Security and food stamps. How he dropped out of high school, smoked marijuana and worked a series of odd jobs, including bouncer for an X-rated theater.

Then he pulled himself together, attending community college on his way to UC Berkeley and UCLA law school. A political junkie since age 8, he switched from Democrat to Republican--and a conservative one at that--in 1988, while working as a deputy district attorney. Then-Gov. George Deukmejian appointed him to the Glendale Municipal Court bench in 1990, making him the then-youngest judge in California.

Schiff, born in Massachusetts to a solidly middle-class family, moved to Northern California as a child, then went to Stanford University and Harvard Law School before joining the U.S. attorney’s office, where he won every case he prosecuted. He ran unsuccessfully three times for the Assembly--including twice against Rogan--before winning his Senate seat to become the youngest member of the upper house. In between campaigns for the Legislature, he married Eve Sanderson, whom he met through friends on a tennis court.

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The normally buttoned-down Schiff gracefully endures Adam-and-Eve jokes. The couple have a 2-year-old, Alexa.

Rogan, who met his Glendale-born wife, Christine, on an elevator in their apartment building 14 years ago, dotes on their identical twin daughters, Claire and Dana, 8. The girls stay in a Washington suburb with Christine Rogan while their father hits the California campaign trail on weekends.

Rogan recently attended a three-hour service at Metropolitan Baptist Church in Altadena, a predominantly black congregation, while a campaign aide and news crews cooled their heels outside the large sanctuary.

Rogan kept his speech short. He commended a young woman who had just brought her boyfriend to church and recalled how he too had come to his faith after he first met Christine.

“The only way she would go out with me on a date was if I would come to church, where she sang in the choir,” Rogan recalled for the cheering congregation. “And after a while, I stopped looking at her and started hearing the message.”

Rogan stayed briefly to talk with some of the church’s youngest members, then left to meet with Armenian American volunteers at his Glendale campaign headquarters.

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Schiff, meanwhile, was at an informal gathering at a home in Glendale’s Oakmont neighborhood.

The five-member host committee, which included a Republican, described in its detailed invitation what Schiff had done to try to halt a large housing development proposed for the neighborhood. The hosts also mentioned Schiff’s work with local law enforcement and on education, but said not a word about Rogan--or impeachment.

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