ALTHOUGH IT’S NOT BEEN UNUSUAL during the Bush years for Californians to shout at their TVs, not everyone has responded to developments on the tube by running for Congress. Marcy Winograd, however, was so incensed last February by what she viewed as Jane Harman’s W-coddling performance on Meet the Press that she decided on the spot to challenge the six-term House Democrat in the party’s June primary. Winograd’s unexpected entry has produced a bitter personality clash that, when the race is over, will make urban gang truces look like child’s play compared to reconciling the campaign’s two sides.
In some ways the two women are similar (both are middle-aged, middle-class Jews born in New York City), yet their personalities mark a chasmic cultural divide within the Democratic party. Harman, the frosty mandarin from Harvard Law, is a member of her party’s conservative Blue Dog faction and is married to the millionaire founder of Harman Kardon audio electronics; Winograd, the Berkeley poli-sci grad whose home number is listed in the phone book and whose poetry appears online, is L.A. president of Progressive Democrats of America and married to a labor lawyer.
The Harman-Winograd race also mirrors the split social topography of the 36th District, which stretches from boho beach cottages in Venice down through the townhouses of Manhattan Beach and most of blue-collar San Pedro. Except for a failed 1998 gubernatorial bid, the 60-year-old Harman has won all her elections since entering politics in 1992, although her early victory margins tended to be anorexic — Harman’s epic 1994 mud-wrestling match with Susan M. Brooks wasn’t officially decided until July 1995. Then, in 2000, Sacramento Democrats trimmed her district of such troublesome GOP redoubts as Rolling Hills, Palos Verdes and the Costa Reagan that runs along San Pedro’s Paseo del Mar.
Even with a completely safe district, critics say, Harman has moved to the right, especially after 9/11; today, Harman’s elbow seems permanently planted on her Yes button whenever such Bush initiatives as the Patriot Act, Iraq-war authorization and the Bankruptcy Act come before the House. The 52-year-old Winograd is mainly opposing Harman as an anti-war candidate who believes the incumbent is too much of a “Bush Democrat” for her liberal district. For her part, the congresswoman has lately been talking up her progressive credentials while calling for a timed withdrawal from Iraq.
Harman’s endorsements include nearly every elected California Democrat, along with most major labor organizations and the Sierra Club. The latest figures for campaign contributions show her with a $600,000 war chest — almost nine times larger than Winograd’s. A quarter of Harman’s contributions come from PACs, led by defense-industry and organized-labor donors; Harman’s individual donors mostly live out-of-state and include presidents or executives from the Manatt Phelps & Phillips law firm, Raytheon defense systems and Carlyle Group investments.
In person, Harman is surprisingly petite — a wire-waisted figurine with coifed blond hair and very short, lacquered nails. Harman exudes toughness, from her nasal lawyer’s voice to the glacial-blue eyes that peer out from behind a somewhat-hawkish nose.
“What nice digs!” she said last week when she arrived at the opening of her headquarters in Manhattan Beach. “Who’s tending bar?”
Much of the buzz that evening centered on April’s state party convention in Sacramento, and how Harman stalwarts were just able to turn back Winograd supporters from denying the congresswoman the party endorsement — as they had at district gatherings in the weeks leading up to Sacramento. Then Harman, who was in Washington, had asked Torrance City Councilwoman Hope Witkowsky to represent her before the Torrance Democratic Club, which eventually endorsed Winograd.
“I had no idea what I was in for,” Witkowsky says. “[Winograd] brought in her people, screaming and chanting, to fill a little room at Torrance Airport. They were rude and uninformed.”
According to Witkowsky, Winograd’s tactics were repeated at the Sacramento state party convention.
“Her people made a lot of noise .?.?. They’re very loud and rowdy, but what [this] does is split the vote here for a very strong candidate like Jane.”
There has been another kind of buzz around the campaign, however, concerning rumors that after the fall elections Nancy Pelosi will remove Harman from her post as the House Intelligence Committee’s top-ranking Democrat.
When asked about this, Harman simply replied, “I hope to stay. It’s a leadership appointment, so I serve at the pleasure of Pelosi.”
“I LIVE AND SLEEP in a rented apartment in the Marina with my three cats,” says Marcy Winograd, who has moved from her Pacific Palisades home to live in the 36th District. “All the campaign workers are in the kitchen and living room. It’s intense.”
Interviewed at Venice’s Rose Café, where in the past she has read poetry, Winograd rattles off Harman’s conservative positions with the clear enunciation of the school teacher she is. Today, wearing a red power jacket and pearls, Winograd is happy, having gotten her union, the powerful United Teachers Los Angeles, to reverse itself by withdrawing its Harman endorsement and backing her. Winograd has little other labor support, except for the United Farm Workers and a regional district of the United Auto Workers. High-profile supporters include Jackie Goldberg, Tom Hayden, Gore Vidal, Dolores Huerta, Eds Asner and Begley Jr., Robert Greenwald and Daniel Ellsberg; none reside in the 36th, although a partial review of Winograd’s volunteer lists shows that most of her campaign workers do. (In addition to volunteers, Winograd’s campaign pays canvassers and people to plant her lawn placards.)
Like her poetry, Winograd is direct and declarative.
“There are people who revile Jane Harman,” she told the L.A. Weekly editorial board. “People hate her.”
Her view is repeated by supporters.
“Jane Harman has been horrible,” Codepink co-founder Jodie Evans says during a phone interview. “I support Marcy because she’s the anti-war candidate. With Jane it’s just about greed and raping the party. She doesn’t represent us.”
David Greene, the president of the Lomita–Harbor City Democratic Club and a Winograd supporter, claims Harman is seen as distant and uncommunicative.
“I got a call from Jane Harman, and [until now] I’ve never gotten a call from Jane Harman,” he says by phone. “She also called a friend of mine, who was so surprised, she asked [Harman], ‘Is this a recording?’?”
Winograd’s epiphany with Harman’s Meet the Press appearance may have been the catalyst for her congressional run, but her political awakening occurred years before, when, as a teenage girl, she would lie in bed at night listening to her father, Sam, yell at her sister’s boyfriend, who was considering enlisting to fight in Vietnam. Activism ran in the family: Her parents worked for the World Federalist Movement, which advocates peace through international law, and Marcy’s brother, Barry, played a role in the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley. After a brief detour at the University of Redlands’ experimental Johnston College, Marcy followed Barry to Cal; she worked as an organizer for the United Farm Workers in Delano and Salinas, then returned to Berkeley to help set up the 1975 wine boycott. Radio stints at KPFK and KPCC’s forerunner station ensued, along with teaching jobs in Wilmington, Lomita and Marina del Rey.
A FEW DAYS AFTER the Rose Café interview, Winograd appears twice at a Bake Back Congress event held at a supporter’s Mar Vista home. Mar Vista, Venice and San Pedro are Winograd strongholds. She must win over the less disaffected neighborhoods in between, and fast — the calendar doesn’t favor last-minute campaigns, although Winograd says her research shows she only needs to capture 19,000-20,000 votes to win. Even David Greene concedes that her campaign is a “longshot.” Harman will begin active campaigning with next week’s congressional recess; no direct debates between the women are planned. Whoever wins the primary effectively wins the seat, since Republicans are only running a scarecrow candidate, Brian Gibson, in November.
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At the Mar Vista home, a young woman displays her political cartoons on the front lawn (one shows Karl Rove as a fat seal), as other women sell brownies and cookies from card tables; one hand-lettered sign offers “Free Coaching for Progressive Entrepreneurs.”
Blue Dogs hate these events. More than that, they — like many Democratic centrists, pollsters and elected officials — fear them, for they advertise dissent and a break with consensus politics. Such Democrats suffer night sweats whenever Winograd calls for immediate withdrawal from Iraq and “war reparations,” or talks about her cats and converting the defense industry to alternative-energy plants, or says she supports gay marriage. To a Jane Harman, these abolitionist positions, along with the brownies and hand-lettered signs, are cross-eyed displays of a radical Boomer bohemianism that began with sit-ins, bad pot and coed dorms, and has now matured into fanny-packed middle age — and red-meat targets for the Bill O’Reillys and Sean Hannitys.
Harman’s headquarters opening had its small omens. An American flag would not stay taped to the wall and kept falling down and, as Hope Witkowsky and other supporters stepped outside the Sepulveda Boulevard storefront for air, they saw, a few doors down, an unexpected and unwelcome sight — a pair of young Winograd supporters holding their candidate’s banner, a look of sullen accusation on their faces. Even if she wins, Harman may not be able to rest easily.
“If I’m this successful,” Winograd laughs, “maybe I should continuously run against her.”