Winograd makes Harman take notice

The candidate, trailed by a volunteer, is knocking on doors in Mar Vista — down Beethoven Street, across Lucille Avenue, along Greenwood Avenue and on. The June 8 election is just weeks away. There is much ground to cover.

"I'm Marcy Winograd, and I'm running for Congress," she says, over and over again. Her blue jacket is spotted with rain. "I'm a grass-roots Democrat who believes in jobs and bringing our troops home."

Winograd is challenging Rep. Jane Harman, a wealthy eight-term incumbent, in the Democratic primary for the 36th Congressional District. Her Marina del Rey campaign headquarters buzzes with activity. Volunteers man phones. Tables are stacked with slick mailers exhorting voters to "imagine sending a teacher, anti-war leader, and healthcare champion to Washington to be your voice in Congress."

Though it is unusual for a sitting member of Congress to face a robust primary challenge, Winograd has taken on Harman before; she ran against her on an antiwar platform in 2006 and won nearly 38% of the vote.

Allan Hoffenblum, whose California Target Book handicaps races in the Golden State, calls the contest "an ideological battle for the soul of the Democratic Party" — a liberal challenger taking on a more conservative incumbent.

"If it was an open seat, she very well could be a real contender," Hoffenblum said. "But against a well-known, well-funded incumbent, it would be a real shocker" if Winograd won. "It's not the suburbs of San Francisco."

Still, Winograd is forcing Harman to work "a bit more than she might like to be working on her reelection," said political scientist Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a senior fellow at USC. "It would be nice if [Harman] could just hang out in Washington….But she's been around. If someone can move an incumbent to do that, that's OK."

Winograd cofounded the Los Angeles chapter of Progressive Democrats of America. She has been endorsed by the International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace workers, United Teachers of Los Angeles and Democracy for America. Actor Ed Asner has taped messages on her behalf.

"I will put Your Street before Wall Street," her website declares, front and center. "Jane Harman votes for Wall Street."

Until recently, Harman has largely ignored her challengers. The three political mailers she has sent to voters so far make no mention of Winograd or the other Democrat on the ballot, manufacturing operations engineer David C. Moore.

Like her website, they tout Harman's congressional achievements, her endorsements — including that of the California Democratic Party — her promises to push for improvements to national security and a vigorous aerospace industry, and her opposition to Bush administration tax cuts.

In announcing on March 23 that she had hired Los Angeles-based consultant Harvey Englander to steer her reelection campaign, Harman promised to run "a positive campaign focusing on job creation and economic growth," among other things.

But she has begun airing a 30-second television ad charging that Winograd "wants to kill the defense budget, putting thousands more people out of work and exposing our nation to attack. Congressman Henry Waxman says, 'In Marcy Winograd's vision, Israel would cease to exist.' " Waxman has endorsed Harman.

Caitlin Frazier, Winograd's press secretary, described the Harman ad in an early Friday e-mail as "a sign of her weakness and fear for keeping her seat."

Times staff writer Jean Merl contributed to this report.

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