Candidates for Dixon's Seat Keep Pushing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Wrapping up a special election to fill the seat vacated when U.S. Rep. Julian Dixon died last year, four candidates vying for the chance to represent the 32nd Congressional District are making a last push today to turn out their supporters.

Diane Watson--who served for 20 years in the state Senate and was the leading vote-getter in the April primary--is pitted against Republican Noel Irwin Hentschel, Green Party candidate Donna J. Warren and Reform Party candidate Ezola Foster.

Although many see the race as Watson's to lose, all of the candidates have waged determined efforts, traversing the ethnically and economically diverse district, which stretches from Mar Vista to the USC, from the Inglewood border to Koreatown.

"We're covering a lot of territory," Watson said.

Because the congressional vote is on the same day as a Los Angeles mayoral election between two Democrats, Watson's campaign is expected to benefit from an increased turnout among Democrats. Most of the district lies inside the Los Angeles city limits, and both mayoral candidates have stumped long and hard in predominantly African American neighborhoods.

Throughout the abbreviated congressional race, Watson has faced criticism for participating in only one campaign forum since her April 10 primary victory. She skipped one debate last week to attend a public hearing before a state energy commission; while there, she attacked a controversial proposal to build a power plant 650 feet from the Kenneth Hahn State Recreational Area, which is in the 32nd District.

Hentschel is expected to spend about $1 million on her campaign, which includes hip-hop flavor television ads proclaiming that she was a "new kind of Republican" who grew up in the district. She lives outside the district in Bel-Air, but recently bought a home in View Park, inside the district boundaries, to use as her campaign headquarters.

"I see public schools look like prisons and prisons look like nice hotels," said Hentschel, the founder of American Tours International and an unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor in 1998.

Hentschel's mail has helped raise her profile in the race, but she exposed herself to some criticism for it.

In particular, a campaign mailer featured a photograph of a man injecting himself with drugs and challenged Watson's support for needle exchange programs. Watson denounced the ad as a "very scurrilous attack piece."

On Monday, Warren, an MTA auditor, campaigned at bus stops, where she handed out free coffee to commuters, criticized President Bush's energy policy and called for the dismantling of "the prison-industrial complex."

She argued for reducing prison expenditures and devoting more money to education and drug rehabilitation.

Foster, a former Los Angeles teacher who was Reform Party presidential nominee Patrick Buchanan's running mate last year, said radio ads and telephone volunteers will urge voters to support her program calling for a crackdown on the "flood of illegal immigrants into the country."

Despite her efforts to focus on those issues, Foster said she expects Watson to win.

"This is not a campaign," she said. "It's a popularity contest, and when it comes to popularity, she wins."

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