UPDATE: Theo Milonopoulos responds about his write-in candidacy, below.
There are 17 candidates on the June 3 ballot to replace Henry Waxman in the Westside's 33rd Congressional District - so many it's nearly impossible to conduct an accurate poll. Because when you call someone and start reading off candidate names, after about 10 or 11 they tell you to get bent and hang up. And the 17 don't include write-in candidate Theo Milonopoulos. (Best of luck to Theo and all, but running as a write-in when most Californians can't spell your name?)
Lots of politicos say they're "sure" so-and-so is gonna make the runoff. Some will be proved right. But this race is a total toss-up. Or as chairman of the L.A. Democratic Party Eric Bauman puts it: "Have you ever been to Las Vegas? You know when you walk into a casino, they have the big wheel ..." You get the idea. "It's got very odd dynamics in it."
Let's take a look at them, shall we?
1: It's an odd-looking district Check out the shape of California Congressional District 33. Drawn by the fine folks at the California Citizens Redistricting Commission in 2011, it looks like the Starship Enterprise. It arcs across miles and miles of beach communities like Santa Monica, Malibu, Venice and the South Bay, and takes in the rich folk in heavily gated Calabasas and Palos Verdes, plus suburban law-and-order Torrance. Much of the 33rd is leftovers - chunks of voters that remained after the citizen commission (as required by law) crafted bizarrely shaped nearby Congressional districts to contain as many black or Latino voters as possible.
"It connects several, very different L.A. communities," says Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data, Inc.. "You almost have to run as if you're running seven different city council campaigns."
2. A Republican actually has an advantage (for now) You'd think the frontrunner would be some big-name Democrat ready to follow in Waxman's small but formidable footsteps. But you'd be wrong. Sort of. The kind-of favorite to probably make the runoff and then maybe get wiped out in the November general election is none other than Elan Carr, a Republican Iraq War veteran and deputy L.A. County district attorney.
Why is Carr so strong? Because a bit more than a third of the electorate is GOP. He stands a good chance of picking up most of these votes, so lots of people think Carr is a shoo-in to win one of the top two spots on June 3, after which his job gets a lot harder.
The one dissenter on this theory is Ted Lieu's campaign consultant, Bill Carrick, who is hardly impartial. But let's hear from him anyway: "I think that Elan Carr had money in the beginning. He seems to be running out of gas. He has not consolidated Republican voters yet. The theory that he will is just a theory."
3. The Democratic favorite has never run in much of the district The next two favorites are Wendy Greuel and Ted Lieu. You remember Greuel from her disastrous mayoral campaign, where she was endorsed by nearly every elected official in L.A. and spent untold millions, only to get absolutely pummeled by nice-enough-guy Eric Garcetti, a liberal who somehow convinced Republicans in the Valley to vote for him. Voters may recognize the name "Wendy Greuel," from TV ads they heard last year. That's generally a good thing - voters like voting for candidates whose names they feel they recognize.
On the downside, Greuel hasn't represented a lot of this district. She was a San Fernando Valley-area L.A. councilwoman, and then she was L.A. city controller. But the twisty borders of the 33rd only intermittently overlap with L.A's borders. So even though most people in this district were subjected to an unending stream of TV ads from the mayor's race, very few have ever voted for Greuel - or for anyone from L.A. How this plays out ... you remember the wheel, right?
4. The guy who has run in the district doesn't seem to be pulling away Then there's Ted Lieu, the other sort-of frontrunner. Lieu has represented a good chunk of this district as a California state senator. What's more, he's the only major candidate with a base of support in the southern part of the district. And he's the only Asian. And he served in the military. And he's got adorable, chubby cheeks.
Yet for all his strengths, there's no indication that Ted Lieu has pulled away from the pack. That might be because Lieu started spending money much later than the Greuel campaign did. That's the favored strategy of Bill Carrick, who was last seen helping the Garcetti campaign destroy Greuel in the mayor's race. Or it might be because people don't like the state legislature, and the state senate, in particular, is mired in corruption - though none involving Ted Lieu.
5. There's a real wild card Marianne Williamson -
new age leader spiritual guru oh, just read this article about her - has a loyal and devoted fan base. Just one problem: they're spread all over the globe. How many of them vote in the 33rd? Williamson has raised a lot of money, but she's also already spent most of it.
Most observers have been surprised that she's stayed in the conversation, though she remains a long-shot. But if there is such a thing as a "women's vote" in this race, she could potentially pull some votes from Greuel, handing Ted Lieu one of the top two primary spots and boosting him to the general election. To maybe face Carr. Or maybe not.
6. OK, there are two wild cards We should also mention Matt Miller. He got the L.A. Times endorsement. Way to go Matt! Probably won't win, might suck votes away from other candidates. But nobody knows from whom.
7. There's another potential wild card on top of that David Kanuth. Dude we'd never heard of raised a million dollars! Hasn't seemed to help. But again, who will Kanuth hurt by attracting votes here and there, yet having probably no chance himself?
8. No one is paying attention There's really not a lot going on this election season. The governor's race is basically a protracted re-coronation of Jerry Brown, with the sideshow of whether Republicans unite behind confirmed nut job Tim Donnelly or former aerospace engineer and investment banker Neel Kashkari.
There are only two ballot measures, neither of which anyone cares about. The mailboxes of many Congressional District 33 residents are also jammed with glossy mailers promoting various would-be state legislators. There isn't too much excitement for this election, at least on its face. And the fewer voters go to the polls, the more chance some small, strange, self-selected bunch will decide which two move on to the November ballot - and the crazier it is to make predictions.
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"Right now, I really think this shakes out as a throw of the dice," says Bauman.
Updated at 6:05 p.m.:
Candidate Theo Milonopoulos responds:
Hillel Aron asked how I as a write-in candidate with a big, fat Greek long last name can expect voters to know how to get through all of the 'o's and 'u's and spell my name on their ballots.
I share Mr. Aron's concern, which is why I collected over 75 signatures beyond the 40 required to ensure I qualified as an official write-in candidate for the June 3 primary. This means that somewhere, somehow in each polling place in the 33rd Congressional district, my name will be printed on a list of certified write-in candidates for voters to copy down onto their ballots should they so choose.
What will be most interesting for me and other observers, I suspect, is to see how these votes are counted. What happens if, as is often the case, people spell the ending of my name as "-lous" rather than the correct "-los"? Does this spelling error disqualify that constituent's vote? Will we disenfranchise voters who support my campaign simply because of a common spelling error?
I suspect this is only a question that can be resolved by the courts, a battlefield where I am fully prepared to take my insurgent campaign.