Less than a month after Janice Hahn's allies in City Hall conducted a whisper campaign questioning Debra Bowen's stand on marriage equality, now it's Hahn herself leading the charge.
This time questioning Bowen's loyalty to the Democratic Party.
One day before a Democratic special endorsing caucus meets to officially support a candidate in the 36th district special election, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn’s campaign is presenting her as the only true Democrat in the race. It turns out California Secretary of State Debra Bowen was once a Republican.
The Hahn campaign hinted in a press release that she is the only Democratic candidate who has never been a member of another political party as it trotted out the endorsements of four officers of the state Democratic Party.
“Janice Hahn has always been committed to Democratic values,” First Vice Chairman Alex Rooker said. State party Secretary Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer said, “there is only one candidate in this race that has always been a Democrat.”
(editor's note: Roll Call should have attributed that last quote to Sergio Carrillo. See full text of press release below)
Debra Bowen was a registered Republican until 1984, then switched party affiliation to become a Democrat. In 1992, during her first successful run for the California Assembly, she told the LA Times she made the switch because the Republican party lacked "compassion and tolerance and respect for others." She has remained a Democrat ever since.
Observers familiar with the race aren't convinced Hahn's charge will hold up to scrutiny. "Hillary Clinton was a Goldwater girl. Janice Hahn was a Clinton delegate in 2008. Does she want to renounce that endorsement because Clinton wasn't 'always a Democrat'?", said David Dayen, a writer for FDL News who's covered California politics extensively.
Current party affiliation hasn't always been a deal breaker for Janice Hahn either. Recently she endorsed Republican Mitch Endglander in the March 8th LA City Council race.
An official California Democratic Party endorsement would be helpful to a candidate as they compete for votes in the crowded, bipartisan field. A candidate would have to garner 60% of the caucus votes to win the endorsement. Janice Hahn is reportedly worried enough about the endorsement that she showed up unannounced on delegate's doorsteps this week hoping to sway their votes.
As she did in the Lt. Governor's race against Gavin Newsom, Janice Hahn has shown no hesitancy to go negative in this race early and fast, whether it's baiting Marcy Winograd into joining the race with the hope her candidacy would cut into Bowen's votes, or conducting whisper campaigns questioning Bowen's stand on marriage equality and party affiliation.
However Hahn's strategy may backfire. Even though party registration in this district leans Democratic, the May 17th special election runs under "open primary" rules, where voters can cast a ballot for any candidate regardless of party affiliation. Historically, Bowen's appeal has crossed party lines, especially with pro-choice Republican women, who helped Bowen win her first Assembly race in 1992 when the district was still majority Republican.
Hahn also runs the risk of turning off Democratic voters who see Bowen as a hero for her work on election protection and government transparency.
"It just smells," said Tony Salvaggio, a registered Democrat and party delegate from Manhattan Beach, "We should be debating facts, issues, and who's better qualified for the job, not what somebody's party affiliation was 27 years ago."
Below is the text from Hahn's press release:
STATEWIDE CALIFORNIA DEMOCRATIC PARTY OFFICERS ENDORSE JANICE HAHN FOR CONGRESS
Hahn Earns Major Endorsements from Statewide, Regional, and Local Democratic Party Leaders
LOS ANGELES- Several leading California Democratic Party officers endorsed Janice Hahn for Congress today, including, First Vice Chair of the California Democratic Party Alex Rooker, Secretary of the California Democratic Party Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, Sr., Regional Director for the South Bay and Harbor Area of the California Democratic Party Sergio Carrillo, as well as Regional Director for West Los Angeles of the California Democratic Party Terrance Montgomery.
Today’s news comes after several days of Hahn rolling out major endorsements this week, including endorsements from the California Labor Federation, Los Angeles Police Protective League and Congresswoman Linda Sanchez.
“Janice Hahn has always been committed to Democratic values and will be a strong voice for Democrats in Washington,” said Alex Rooker, First Vice-Chair of the California Democratic Party. “Janice will be a fighter for more jobs, a cleaner environment, better schools, and more access to healthcare, and that’s why I am proud to endorse her for Congress.”
“We need Representatives in Congress who won’t back down from a tough fight, and I know that Janice will not only be a fighter, but she will be a champion for Democrats in Washington,” said Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, Sr., Secretary of the California Democratic Party.
“There are several good candidates in this race, but there is only one candidate in this race that has always been a Democrat, and has always stood up for Democratic values, and that’s Janice Hahn,” added Sergio Carrillo, Regional Director for the California Democratic Party.
“I was born a Democrat, I was raised a Democrat, and when I am elected to Congress, I will never forget that I’m a Democrat,” said Councilwoman Janice Hahn. “I grew up learning early on about Democratic values—my dad, former Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenny Hahn taught me about civil rights, equality, and the importance of the middle class. When I go to Congress I pledge to stand up for these Democratic values and be a fighter for the people of the 36th Congressional District.”