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Combative LA congressional race brings big spending

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Two congressional candidates are throwing down big money in western Los Angeles as they vie to succeed retired Rep. Jane Harman, one of Congress’ wealthiest Democrats, who stepped down in February to head a Washington think tank.

Democrat Janice Hahn, a Los Angeles city councilwoman, and her opponent, Republican businessman Craig Huey, have combined to spend more than $1.5 million so far on the 36th Congressional District race, which will be decided in a special election Tuesday.

As the LA Times has noted, the race has been unusually combative for a district largely seen as a Democratic safe haven. Democrats have an 18-point voter registration advantage in the district and saw Gov. Jerry Brown win by a double-digit margin last fall.

Hahn has raised more than $1 million, and, as of reports filed late last week, still had more than $300,000 on hand. But she also had debts to match. Huey, a direct marketing executive from Torrance, loaned his campaign nearly $700,000 and has raised about $144,000 more. His spending has slightly outpaced Hahn's going into the final week of the campaign.

The nonprofit campaign finance group MapLight.org is tracking both candidates' eleventh-hour fundraising here.

The race, California’s first under the open primary system approved by voters last fall, has been marked by all the controversy of a ballot box nail-biter, even though Hahn holds the edge on paper.

Last month, a Republican political action committee called Turn Right USA released a viral web video depicting Hahn as a stripper, which was quickly denounced by both campaigns.

Hahn’s campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission over the video, claiming it was tied to Huey’s campaign. But earlier this week, Huey’s campaign filed a complaint of its own, arguing that Hahn’s campaign commissioned illegal robocalls in the closing days of the race.

Democrats from Brown to former President Bill Clinton have weighed in to support Hahn, whereas Huey is a favorite of the Tea Party.

Republicans have found some optimism in the unexpected results of May’s open primary. Although Hahn came out on top in that runoff, Huey narrowly placed second, beating out another Democrat, Secretary of State Debra Bowen, by fewer than 1,000 votes.

Last week, Huey’s campaign also released early voting tallies that showed him within striking distance of Hahn, though her campaign argued that the results did not include decline-to-state voters, who in that district favor Democrats.

The last time a Republican won in the district was in 1998, when Steven Kuykendall upset Harman by 2 percentage points. Harman came back to defeat Kuykendall by a similar margin two years later and has won the district by 20-plus-point margins in every election since.

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