Rep. Jane Harman aims to avoid anti-incumbent tide
Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) is taking no chances in advance of her June 8 primary where a liberal primary challenger is looking to make her the latest victim of an anti-establishment fever permeating the country.
A hard-hitting ad from Harman's campaign features a series of hot-button images of Osama bin Laden and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and suggests her opponent, Marcy Winograd, would decimate the U.S. defense department.
The ad quotes Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) as saying: "In Marcy Winograd's vision, Israel would cease to exist."
Democrats say the ad makes clear that Harman recognizes the current environment and its pitfalls, even though she beat Winograd by 24 points in 2006 and is a strong favorite this Tuesday.
"Congresswoman Harman and her campaign are smart at this point to not take anything for granted," California Democratic consultant Jim Ross said.
Harman adviser Harvey Englander explained that the ad is merely a response to Winograd's attacks. "How long do you stand there and get punched before you say, let's tell the truth?" Englander said. He added that he doesn't "think the race is close at all."
Winograd has been vastly outspent in the race -- nearly two-to-one, according to Federal Election Commission reports through May 19 -- but the recent fates of several House and Senate incumbents have forced a new analysis of her chances.
Rep. Parker Griffith (R-Ala.) lost badly in his primary Tuesday, making him the second House incumbent to lose this spring; Sens. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Robert Bennett (R-Utah) have both been unseated in intraparty squabbles and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) could join them when she faces a runoff Tuesday.
Harman's district is solidly Democratic -- President Barack Obama won it by 30 points in 2008 -- but it is also very defense-oriented, with Boeing as its largest private employer.
"The challenge is to ensure those in defense industry to assure them that I'm not about cutting their jobs," Winograd said in an interview with the Fix.
While Harman's support for the Iraq war was Winograd's main issue in the 2006 campaign, this time around the two women, who are both Jewish, are doing battle over the killings by Israeli soldiers on a flotilla headed for Gaza on Monday.
Winograd has called for a one-state, or binational, solution to the ongoing conflict -- combining Israelis and Palestians into one state -- and she called the soldiers "murderers." Harman, a staunch ally of Israel, decried Winograd's response as "premature."
The issue could play a significant role in the district, which has an estimated 44,000 Jewish residents, according to the North American Jewish Databank.
Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, said Winograd's positions on Israel are way out of the Democratic mainstream.
"I'm unaware of anybody in Congress who supports a binational state," Forman said. "This is stuff that you'd only see in Europe."
Harman's campaign released a poll that showed her leading Winograd 58 percent to 17 percent. Winograd's campaign responded with an automated poll that showed the incumbent at just 43 percent, but it conspicuously released no numbers for Winograd. That suggests her name ID remains low, and it's unclear if she has the money she needs to overcome it.
Both women have family wealth, but they have been reticent to dip into it. Harman hasn't self-funded in her 2006 primary or this one, despite spending $17 million on her failed 1998 gubernatorial run.
Winograd told The Fix that she prefers to raise the money rather than donate it herself. (Who doesn't?). She dumped nearly $200,000 into her 2006 bid but hasn't self-funded at all this time.
California political analyst Allan Hoffenblum said Harman should survive in a district like hers barring something extraordinary.
"It's not a wine and cheese district," said Hoffenblum, who once ran the campaign of Harman's Republican opponent. "I think it would be a big upset if [Winograd] were to win the primary."
-- Aaron Blake
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