When South Bay Republican Craig Huey, who has never before held public office, finished second in the May 17 special election to fill the empty seat in California’s 36th Congressional District, he didn’t just surprise political observers.
He also surprised the only candidate who got more votes than he did in the first round of the race to replace former Congresswoman Jane Harman.
“I think everyone thought it would be Debra Bowen,” first-place finisher and Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn said in an interview with The Jewish Journal.
In a first round of voting that included 16 candidates, Huey finished behind the Democratic Hahn but managed to edge out the better-known Bowen, also a Democrat, who has served as California’s Secretary of State since 2007. The final margin between the second- and third-place candidates ended up being fewer than 1,000 votes.
The election was California’s first ever “jungle primary” — a system that was voted into practice by Californians in a 2010 ballot initiative that replaced the old system of party-based primaries. And although many expected the runoff to be between two Democratic candidates — the district has twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans — the two candidates in the election on July 12 will be from opposing political parties.
Hahn and Huey differ on nearly every issue — tax policy, the future of the country’s health care system and gay marriage, to name just three — but the two seem in almost complete agreement when it comes to unhesitating support for Israel.
At least Hahn thinks so: “There’s a lot of things that we’re miles apart on, but I don’t know if there’s any differences in the way that we would support Israel,” she said.
Huey, speaking in an interview after President Barack Obama’s speech at the State Department on May 19 (but before he spoke to the AIPAC convention on May 22), disagreed.
“I’d like to have Janice Hahn be clear on her position with regards to President Obama calling for a freeze on building in Israel,” Huey said. “I would like her to be clear on whether or not she supports the call to take the boundaries back to 1967, which would make Israel unsafe.”
Hahn was asked about Israeli settlements at a candidates’ forum sponsored by Democrats for Israel last month. She said that the focus on settlements was unhelpful to the peace process, but she also said that the decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in March 2010 to announce the approval of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem at precisely the moment when Vice President Joe Biden was visiting the country “probably didn’t help the peace process.”
Asked on May 23 about Obama’s two much-dissected comments about using Israel’s pre-1967 borders as a starting point for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, Hahn said she “was concerned by his remarks [at the State Department], as were many of my Jewish friends.”
Hahn’s worry was that the president “would put conditions on Israel in terms of where they started in the negotiations about the ’67 borders — without putting a similar condition on the Palestinians and what they had to do to come to the table.”
Huey, who runs a direct-marketing business and publishes multiple Web sites to help guide voters to support conservative candidates in elections, raised more money than any other candidate in the electoral race — mostly by personally lending his campaign $500,000.
He was not surprised by his own good showing in the primary: “It was quite a surprise to Washington and to the political elite and to the news media,” Huey told The Jewish Journal. “It was not a surprise to me, no, based upon what I was hearing from the folks in the district. They’re very upset with the status quo and the policies that are backed by the special interests.”
In terms of policies, Huey supports term limits of 12 years for representatives in Congress and would repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which he termed “Obamacare.” He would vote against all tax increases, for an end to the estate tax and for making the Bush tax cuts permanent. He supports Rep. Ron Paul’s (R-Texas) call to abolish the Federal Reserve. And although Huey hasn’t been endorsed by the Tea Party, he said he does have “a lot of Tea Party support because they like my economic message.”
“But,” he added, “I also have longshoreman support and union support, because they like my message.”
Huey’s Web site includes endorsements from a handful of elected officials, a few dozen business leaders and hundreds of “our neighbors” — but as of early this week, it didn’t list any unions that support him.
Hahn’s Web site, by contrast, listed dozens of unions’ endorsements. They were printed just below a lengthy list of national, state and local elected officials who have thrown their support behind Hahn.
Most of Hahn’s positions differ from Huey’s: “It’s such a clear choice on so many issues,” Hahn said. “Social Security, Medicare, a woman’s right to choose — there’s just so many issues that we’re so different on.”
“He wants to balance the budget on the backs of seniors, the poor and the disabled,”
Hahn said of her opponent. “I believe that there are other ways to cut spending and bring in revenue.”
Speaking specifically about the budget plan proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and approved by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives last month — which Huey said he would support — Hahn called it a bad idea. “The Ryan plan would dismantle Medicare,” Hahn said. “And the seniors I talk to are very worried about that.”
How would Hahn balance the budget?
“First of all, I would bring our troops back from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Hahn said. She also would vote to repeal the Bush-era tax cuts — “millionaires and billionaires ought to be paying their fair share of taxes,” she said, adding that Obama’s health care bill deserves a chance to work.
“I believe that [Huey] does not represent this district,” Hahn said. I believe that his interests are just so to the right of this district.”
“He ain’t gonna win the July runoff,” Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican political consultant and the publisher of the “California Target Book” said of Huey’s chances. “The question is, is he really going to spend more of his own money in a race that he really can’t win?”
In the first round, 56 percent of the votes cast were for Democratic candidates, while 41 percent of voters went with a Republican candidate.
Huey, however, remains confident he can swing enough independent voters to make it a race.
“What we’re finding is that people are very upset about the huge, $1.6 trillion budget deficit,” Huey said when asked about his crossover potential.
He also talked about the national debt, which he described as “$427,000 of debt for every man, woman and child.”
“The issue of the debt is something that really angers people,” Huey said. “We’re paying 12 billion a month in interest and a lot of it is going to China — and people don’t like that.”
“The independents get it,” Huey added.
Huey and Hahn did appear at events together in advance of the primary round of voting, and the two campaigns are still negotiating when and where the candidates will appear between now and the second round.