Expected to be a safe Democratic seat, California’s 36th’ District has become a heated battleground heading into Tuesday’s special election.
The race pits Democratic City Councilwoman Janice Hahn against Republican businessman Craig Huey to replace Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), who left to become president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Huey surprised observers by making it out of a jungle primary and into the final runoff — most expected the race to be between two Democrats at this point. He’s dipped into his personal fortune to the tune of around $800,000, however, giving him an added edge.
The race has become best known nationally for an ad from an independent group that’s among some of the most offensive ever cut in a Congressional campaign. The spot by Turn Right USA attacks Janice Hahn’s work with gang intervention programs by showing a pair of gun-toting gangsters taking money from Hahn, who is portrayed as a stripper, while rapping “Give Us Yo Cash, B—-h!” before finally abusing her with an assault rifle.
Huey and the National Republican Congressional Committee have condemned the ad, but they’ve made its message the central focus of their campaign. A local FOX report in 2008, recently followed up by the same station, alleged that convicted criminals claimed they received money and support via gang intervention programs backed by Janice Hahn. But subsequent fact-checks by Politifact and LA Weekly say the report’s claims are false: the criminals portrayed, “PJ Steve,” did not receive any taxpayer money (one wasn’t even a gang intervention worker at all) and Hahn says a felon’s claim that she helped him get out of jail is untrue as well.
“The entire Fox story was based on statements made by desperate criminal gang members who would say anything to avoid going to jail,” Hahn said at the time per Politifact. “I have never paid these gang members, never had them work for me, nor have I ever helped them to get out of jail.”
Hahn, who is backed by NARAL Pro-Choice America and EMILY’s List, has tried to focus the race on Huey’s pro-life abortion position. He once described Planned Parenthood as a “murder mill” on his website, a phrase that Hahn has highlighted in ads comparing him to Sarah Palin. As Democrats did in their upset win in NY-26, Hahn has also made heavy use of the House Republicans’ proposal to replace Medicare with a privatized voucher system that offers stingier benefits to seniors, accusing Huey of backing their “radical plan.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.