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National groups adding fuel to fiery congressional runoff in South Bay

July 7, 2011 | 12:26 pm

For an election that wasn't supposed to be much of a contest, the race to succeed former Rep. Jane Harman in Congress has grown increasingly hot -- and garnered more and more national attention -- as Tuesday's balloting nears.

Republican businessman Craig Huey and Democratic Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn took shots at one another Thursday on Larry Mantle's "AirTalk" on KPCC-FM (89.3), their only face-to-face meeting of the runoff campaign. 

Huey called Hahn a "career politician" and blamed her and other Democrats for setting up the country for an "economic catastrophe."  Hahn said Huey wants to protect "millionaires and billionaires" and big business at the cost of lifesaving environmental and workplace safeguards.

The exchange came as national women's groups accused the Huey campaign of trying to discourage women from voting in the South Bay-based 36th Congressional District, and as the National Republican Congressional Committee touted an "update" of a discredited Fox News report that accused Hahn and a city gang-intervention program of hiring and going to bat for active gang members. Hahn vigorously denied the report again on Thursday.

When Hahn, 59, and Huey, 61, emerged in first and second place, respectively, from a 16-candidate primary to win spots on the runoff ballot, most observers predicted Hahn would not have a hard time winning the race to replace Harman, a Venice Democrat who resigned in February to head a Washington think tank. Democrats hold an 18-point registration edge in the district, and Huey's socially conservative views -- he opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, for example -- were seen as out of step with the district's moderate voting patterns.

But Huey pumped about $900,000 of his own money into his campaign and rallied "tea party" activists and other conservatives to help spread his cut-government-spending, grow-jobs message.  Hahn has raised more than $1 million and enlisted support from labor, environmental groups, women's organizations and Democratic leaders, including former President Clinton.

-- Jean Merl

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