Could Harman have a tough time in 2010?


Could the controversy over the wiretapping of Rep. Jane Harman  (D-Calif.) result in a serious primary challenge? Politico says perhaps:

Back home in her Southern California-based district, liberal activists who have never truly embraced Harman are just getting started. Several of them, most notably Marcy Winograd, who heads up Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles, and John Amato, who writes for the popular Crooks and Liars blog, are now making moves to challenge Harman in the Democratic primary, and the recent controversy will be at the heart of their message.

The wiretapping story “has been very, very damaging to her because it highlights what people most distrust about politicians in general: personal gain taking precedence over the voters they are supposed to be representing,” Amato told POLITICO in an e-mail.

Winograd, who ran an unsuccessful primary campaign against Harman in 2006, argued that Harman’s moderate voting record had alienated voters, especially in the district’s more liberal reaches.

“I think what’s important is that Jane Harman’s charade of being a protector of the Constitution should be challenged and exposed,” said Winograd, who received 38 percent of the vote to Harman’s 62 percent in 2006.

Harman has fired back against the charges that she tried to help out two pro-Israel lobbyists accused of espionage with an eye toward getting help from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in pressuring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to select Harman for the chairmanship of the House intelligence committee.

The congresswoman has said she did not contact the White House or any other agency about the investigation, and she dispatched a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting the release of “unredacted” transcripts of alleged National Security Agency wiretaps of conversations between Harman and a suspected Israeli agent.

The entire episode has been an embarrassment for Harman — and for Pelosi, who has been forced to answer questions about how much she knew about the wiretaps, which allegedly took place in 2004 or 2005.

Harman told POLITICO in a statement that she doesn’t mind a primary challenge.

“It’s a democracy, and anyone is entitled to run. I’m in a strong position politically in my district and working on key issues that affect my constituents and the country, including homeland security, climate change and health care reform.”

But Harman did win 69 percent of the vote in her district last November, and, says Politico, she is in southern California:

Part of the problem for Harman’s liberal challengers is that while the wiretapping case is receiving plenty of attention in Washington, the story has been far less scintillating for constituents in Harman’s beach-dotted Southern California district, explained Phil Trounstine, who has worked as a Democratic strategist and pollster in the state.

“To most California voters, this is pretty exotic, Beltway kind of stuff,” said Trounstine.

“In Southern California, politics is not terribly important to most people,” said Darry Sragow, a California-based Democratic strategist. “This issue has gotten a lot of attention from political insiders, but it is of no real importance among normal voters.”

The character of the 36th District also makes Harman’s seat a tough climb for liberal challengers. While Harman’s seat is safely Democratic — and became more so after redistricting in 2000 — it is also military-­minded and largely moderate, with an Air Force base and Boeing Corp. plant located within its boundaries.

Roy Behr, who has worked as a strategist on Harman’s congressional races, said Harman’s centrism is the key to understanding her political success.

“It’s a pretty moderate district,” said Behr. “She is well-liked and well-respected, and she is very much in line with the district.”

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