Democratic Hawk Faces Antiwar Primary Challenger

Congresswoman Jane Harman of the 36th District is one of the best-known Democratic hawks in the country. But that visibility has made her vulnerable to a challenge from antiwar activists in her liberal Southern California district's upcoming primary. Rachael Myrow of member station KPCC in Los Angeles reports.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Some divisions in the Democratic Party are on display in a congressional district in southern California.

On one side, there's Jane Harman. She's the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and voted in favor of the war in Iraq. On the other side are anti-war activists working against her in a Democratic primary.

Rachel Myrow reports from member station KPCC.

RACHEL MYROW reporting:

Just a week ago, Jane Harman faced a tough crowd at the Venice Center for Peace with Justice and the Arts. With sweat beading on her forehead, the six-term incumbent touted her liberal voting record before an audience of about 300 Democratic die-hards.

Representative JANE HARMAN (Democrat, California): I'm also pleased to have the support of the major advocacy groups in this state and in this city: the pro-choice groups, the gay and lesbian groups, the major environmental groups, most of the unions. I have that support because I've earned it.

MYROW: She even drives a hybrid car. Solar energy powers her home in Venice. But for this crowd, what counts most is where Harman stands on the Bush administration's war on terror.

Harman defended her votes for the war in Iraq, for the Patriot Act. Votes like that have made her a popular campaign contribution choice for defense industry giants. But, she says...

Rep. HARMAN: The security policies we adopt as a nation have to respect our constitution and our laws. And I am very critical of this administration for the ways it ignores the law, it ignores Congress totally, and it shuts down oversight by Congress.

MYROW: Not critical enough, argues Harman's challenger in the primary, anti-war activist, poet, and English teacher Marcy Winograd.

Ms. MARCY WINOGRAD (Democratic Congressional Candidate, California): I will introduce legislation to impeach Bush and Cheney.

(Soundbite of applause)

MYROW: When Harman won the 36th Congressional District 14 years ago, this coastal district was a Republican stronghold. After the census of 2000, it was redrawn to favor Democrats. John Kerry beat George Bush here two years ago by 19 points.

The seat is safely blue, says Winograd, so why not challenge a hawkish Democrat?

Ms. WINOGRAD: What the people are having trouble with in the 36th District and well beyond throughout the country is the fact that there is a great chasm, a huge disconnect between the leadership of the Democratic Party and those on the ground. Not just Democrats, but decline-to-states and Republicans who feel disenfranchised, as though their voice has been cut out.

MYROW: Winograd boasts the support of high-powered peace activists, including Cindy Sheehan, who lost a son in Iraq, and author Gore Vidal. But according to the Federal Election Commission, Harman's campaign has generated more than three times the cash as of mid-May.

Some political pundits dismiss Winograd's bid as a distraction, but not Gary South. The long-time Democratic consultant thinks of it more as friendly fire.

Mr. GARY SOUTH (Political Consultant): If we Democrats want to apply an across the board litmus test on so-called progressive issues to every Democrat running in every seat in America, we will never control the House of Representatives and we will never take the United States Senate back. That's just a reality.

MYROW: Harman's not the only Democratic incumbent facing a challenge from the left. So is Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Maria Cantwell in Washington, even Hillary Clinton in New York. If progressive challengers lose in June, will their supporters side with the centrists in November? Stay tuned.

For NPR News, I'm Rachel Myrow, in Los Angeles.

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