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Janice Hahn savors victory as she looks forward to 2012

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn won’t have much time to savor her victory in Tuesday’s special election for a South Bay-area congressional seat before she has to run again — and in a district that could soon see significant changes.

Hahn, a Democrat in an area where her party enjoys an 18-point registration edge, defeated Republican Craig Huey, 54.6% to 45.4%. But she’ll need to start campaigning again soon, as next year’s primary is less than a year away.

In an interview Wednesday, Hahn, 59, said she was prepared for both the challenges of her new job and the rigors of a looming campaign.

“It just makes me realize I’ll have to work every single day to convince even new voters that I will best represent them,” Hahn said, adding she plans to return to the district regularly to meet with constituents and “make sure I understand the issues that are important to them.”

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“I think those of us who come from local government are best able to do that,” Hahn said, “So I’m looking forward to the challenge, and I think I’m up to it.”

Huey, 61, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The councilwoman will assume her new post at a tumultuous time. President Obama and congressional leaders have been struggling to come up with a deficit-reduction deal that would clear the way for an increase in the nation’s debt limit and avert a fiscal crisis before an Aug. 2 deadline.

The U.S. Capitol is far more partisan than L.A. City Hall. Although the technically nonpartisan City Council has a heavy Democratic tilt, Hahn’s party is in the minority in the House. Some of her first votes will probably be over Republican proposals to cut funding for popular Democratic programs in next year’s spending bills.

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Hahn alluded to the contentious atmosphere in Washington in her victory speech at a San Pedro waterfront restaurant late Tuesday.

“Americans want us to put aside extreme party politics and work together to solve problems for our country,” Hahn said.

She also paid tribute to her mother, Ramona Hahn, who died Monday at 86. Services will be held Saturday, so Hahn will wait until Monday to leave for Washington and be sworn in Tuesday.

Democrats, concerned that the race was tightening in the last few weeks and worried about a potentially weak showing in one of their strongholds, marshaled thousands of volunteers. Together, volunteers with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Organizing for America, which works with Obama, and the California Democratic Party made nearly 410,000 “live” phone calls during the last 20 days of the campaign, the committee said.

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Others, including Obama and former President Clinton, recorded automated calls to voters.

Hahn will now occupy the seat previously held by Democrat Jane Harman of Venice, who abruptly announced she would resign in February to take over a Washington think tank. The announcement came three months after she won reelection last fall with 60% of the vote.

The ensuing special primary and runoff elections together cost taxpayers $3.7 million, the Los Angeles County Registrar/County Clerk’s Office said Wednesday. Elections officials estimated Tuesday’s turnout at 22%, considered high for a mid-summer, single-question special election. Turnout in the 16-candidate primary in May was less than 14%

The biggest unknown now for Hahn is what the district will be like when she launches a reelection campaign. With new voting maps scheduled to be finalized next month by a citizens commission rather than the Legislature, the 36th Congressional District is likely to be reshaped to include some different communities and a smaller proportion of Democrats.

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Under the first proposed maps released by the Citizens Redistricting Commission last month, Hahn’s turf would lose Venice and some other communities at the north end dominated by the Democratic Party and pick up the more Republican-friendly Palos Verdes Peninsula on the south. It would more closely resemble its configuration in 1998, the year then-GOP Assemblyman Steven T. Kuykendall defeated Hahn in her first bid for the seat.

That was one of the closest House races in the country. Two years later, Harman defeated Kuykendall of Rancho Palos Verdes. In 2001 the district, along with others in California, was redrawn in a deal the two major parties cut to protect incumbents.

jean.merl@latimes.com

Los Angeles Times staff writer Richard Simon in Washington contributed to this report.


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