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Candidates for Harman's seat discuss Mideast, immigration, gay rights in online forum

March 24, 2011 |  8:34 pm

On the night before the candidate filing period closes, four of the most prominent prospective successors to former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) participated in the first forum of the upcoming special election, fielding questions about their views on healthcare reform, U.S. policies in the Middle East, gay rights and immigration, among other topics.

Three Democrats -- antiwar activist and teacher Marcy Winograd, Secretary of State Debra Bowen and Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn -- joined Republican Mike Gin, the mayor of Redondo Beach, in an online forum by the grassroots political organizing network Courage Campaign.

The four candidates, who were among the first to announce they were running after Harman said she was resigning her seat in the 36th Congressional District, fielded questions submitted by Courage Campaign members and others in a forum that was marked by politeness and decorum. Candidates agreed on some things -- the importance of ensuring marriage and other civil rights for gays, for example. They disagreed on others, such as the U.S. military intervention in Libya. Gin said he supports the president's decision to order air strikes. Bowen and Hahn said they wanted more information before deciding and Winograd denounced the president's actions as "clearly illegal" and said they started the country down a "very, very dangerous road."

The one-hour, 45-minute forum -- 15 minutes longer than planned, despite the moderator's best efforts to get candidates to keep answers concise -- can be heard in its entirely on the organization's website, www.couragecampaign.org About 20 people have taken at least initial steps to run in the May 17 special election.

If no one wins a majority, the top two vote-getters, regardless of political party, will compete in a July 12 runoff. This will be the first congressional election conducted under California's new "top two" elections system, so it is possible that a runoff could feature two members of the same party.

--Jean Merl