Does Republican Carr Have a Path to Victory in Waxman's District?
After weeks of phone tag, I finally caught up with Republican Elan Carr on Monday afternoon, a day after his solid performance at a a candidate forum in Brentwood. Carr is running to replace retiring Democrat Rep. Henry Waxman, who has represented a substantial portion of West Los Angeles for four decades, and has become a national liberal icon. Could it be possible--or even thinkable--that a Republican could win Waxman's seat?
Stranger things have happened--like Republican Scott Brown wining the 2010 special election in Massachusetts to replace the late Ted Kennedy. Yet the only candidate in recent memory to offer a serious challenge to Rep. Waxman was Bill Bloomfield, who ran as an independent in 2012 and had a personal fortune to spend. Carr is running with an "R" next to his name, in a midterm election when the party faithful will be paying attention.
"There's a tremendous amount of frustration with Washington, D.C. in our district at the moment," Carr tells me, in between preparing to appear in court as a prosecutor and accompanying his pregnant wife--due any day now--to the obstetrician.
What he's offering the voters, he says, is a willingness to reach across the aisle to find workable solutions. He believes he is offering the district "precisely what the voters very much want."
Perhaps--though the same anti-incumbent fervor is also fueling the campaigns of his rivals.
At the candidate forum, independent candidate Marianne Williamson--a spiritual guru and author who announced her challenge to Waxman before he retired last fall--brought a large contingent of vocal supporters who cheered her pledges to take on the "moneyed interests" in Washington and challenge the political status quo on Capitol Hill.
In a sense, Williamson is almost running as the "id" of the district's Democratic voters, who exceed registered Republicans by roughly 15% (and lead unaffiliated voters by a similar margin). She sounds many of the same themes--an attack on economic inequality, concern for the environment, passion for campaign finance reform--that the Democratic Party is pushing in the midterms, but without the political baggage of the party label.
Carr's themes, repeated with somewhat admirable discipline onstage Sunday, are fighting crime and improving education. He sees both as part of an agenda that prioritizes public safety--and he includes defense in that category, telling me that Congress has to stop slashing the military budget.
"Our ability to project power abroad is critical to our safety at home," says the U.S. Army veteran, a view few other candidates seem to share.
But aren't crime and education state and local issues? Why not talk about repealing Obamacare--especially since even many of the left-wing candidates dislike it, albeit because it did not go far enough for them?
Carr says that focusing on that national hot-button issue would cost him support in November. He would rather focus on issues that transcend party boundaries in the district, and avoid debates that lead to divisiveness and partisanship.
And therein lies Carr's challenge. Under the "jungle" primary system, he must finish in the top two out of a total of 18 candidates. To do that, he must hope that the ten Democrats split their party's voter base, while at the same time motivating Republicans to come to the polls in a district where they have long despaired of winning. Wouldn't the party base be more responsive to a pitch that emphasizes opposition to the Obama administration?
Again, Carr says he is taking a different approach. His message will remain where it is, but he will reach out to Republican voters to boost his name recognition, using direct mail and other methods. (Indeed, the moment I put the phone down, his television ad--the first of any candidate in the district--runs on Fox News.) If he spends wisely, he says, he believes he can finish in the #1 spot in the primary vote--not just among the top two.
Williamson, somewhat ironically, may be Carr's best asset as she draws votes away from Democratic candidates. If they both managed to survive the primary--shutting out the split Democrats, as happened in the 31st district in 2012--she would be an easier runoff opponent than a Democrat who could rely on party loyalty.
Overall, Carr's is a narrow and difficult path to victory. Yet--amazingly, for a Republican in Waxman's district--it exists.