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Posted at 10:52 AM ET, 02/ 7/2011

Jane Harman to resign from Congress

By Chris Cillizza

Updated 3:10 p.m.

California Rep. Jane Harman (D) will resign from Congress, a surprise announcement that will set off a special election in her 36th district.

"This is an excruciating decision because the distinction of representing the smartest constituents on earth will never be surpassed -- nor will my relationships with my exceptional staff and colleagues in Congress," said Harman in an email sent to supporters today.

Harman added that she had filed paperwork with the House to let them know she was "in discussions to succeed former Rep. Lee Hamilton as President and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars."

The Center is expected to make a decision tomorrow.

Harman, 65 , has held the southern California 36th district since 2000 when she upended then Rep. Steve Kuykendall (R). She also ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1998, losing a primary to then Lt. Gov. Gray Davis. Her husband, Sidney, is the owner of Newsweek magazine.

Harman's exit was a surprise to many Democrats who reported first hearing of it on the MSNBC airwaves. She did, however, let House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) know of her planned resignation before it went public, according to an informed source.

It will set off a special election in what has grown to be a reliably Democratic seat. President Obama won the seat in the 2008 presidential race by 30 points and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry carried it by 19 in 2004.

Harman's toughest race in recent years came in a primary fight in 2010 from Marcy Winograd who challenged her as insufficiently liberal. Harman won that race with 59 percent.

The power to call the special election will fall to Gov. Jerry Brown (D). The election must be held between 112 and 126 days after the vacancy is declared, according to California election code.

The election will be the first major test of the state's new "jungle primary" law where all candidates -- regardless of party -- will run against one another. The party The two top vote-getters advance to a special general election.

Among the names mentioned on the Democratic side: Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, State Controller John Chiang and Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

By Chris Cillizza  | February 7, 2011; 10:52 AM ET
Categories:  House  
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