When Rep. Henry A. Waxman announced he was retiring after 40 years of serving California in the House, nearly everyone in Los Angeles -- or at least every Democrat -- decided they would like a chance to replace him.
That's a (very) slight exaggeration, sure, but more than 20 people have been campaigning in California's 33rd District the past few months. That's enough to cast an entire episode of the West Wing, and given that multiple scholars of the Aaron Sorkin school of politics have weighed in on the race, who's to say they haven't thought about it?
Here's a guide to the 16 candidates still running for the seat as of today -- as well as those who have dropped out and endorsed one of the campaign survivors. Now, most of these candidates have no chance. But they have also made this race far more fun to watch. Not only are many of them fascinatingly odd, but the sheer number of them has made it an impossible race to poll -- an exciting rarity in electoral politics today. As L.A. Weekly put it, "this race is a total toss-up." Or as election nerds put it:
And away we go!
Wendy Greuel is one of the candidates people have regarded as a front-runner since Waxman first bowed out. The former City Council member and L.A. controller ran for mayor of Los Angeles last year. She lost that race (by a lot) despite endorsements and wads of cash. Greuel has won some endorsements in this race -- including from Emily's List and Rob Reiner -- and is friends with the Clintons. Many assume she'll be able to end on top of the jungle primary. In jungle primaries, all candidates, regardless of party, run in the same primary. The top candidates, regardless of party, compete in the general election. California introduced the system to state elections four years ago, with two candidates allowed to survive the primary. In California, jungle primaries often leave two Democrats or liberal-leaning candidates dueling come November.
She has connections to both ruling political classes in L.A. -- local government leaders and Hollywood. She used to be an executive at DreamWorks. She counts Democratic megadonor and DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg as supporters.
Besides Greuel, Ted Lieu is the other perceived front-runner in the race. He's raked in many endorsements -- including the Democratic Party's -- and has the advantage of having served much of the district as a state senator. Most residents have heard of the guy, which could be especially advantageous in a race with choices aplenty and in an incredibly diffuse Los Angeles media market.
The Los Angeles Times said of the two front-runners, "Either Greuel or Lieu would be a serviceable member of Congress, but Waxman's legacy sets a higher bar."
Radio host and author Matt Miller has won the endorsement of the Los Angeles Times; the paper wrote, "it makes more sense to gamble on someone who articulates a different, better future than it does to send candidates who are embedded members of the system voters hope to change." Note the word gamble -- Miller's support otherwise seems slim, and he has far less money than Lieu, Greuel and Marianne Williamson -- the only other candidates seen as having a chance of making the runoff.
Miller's campaign ads have tried hard to show how he is different from everyone else in the race.
With such a large bench, however, the endorsement could make Miller the sleeper hit of the race. He also counts J.J. Abrams as a supporter. Miller's L.A. bona fides come from a brief appearance in a Denzel Washington movie. Dame Judi Dench managed to win an Oscar for a role that had her on screen for less than 20 minutes, so maybe the same logic could vault Miller to a congressional runoff. But probably not.
Marianne Williamson, who is running as an independent, is one of the many reasons the national media has been tickled by this congressional race. She has written the books, "A Return to Love," "The Age of Miracles," "Everyday Grace," "A Woman’s Worth," "Illuminata," "Healing the Soul of America," "The Gift of Change" and "The Law of Divine Compensation." She has earned the endorsement of handfuls of celebrities. She has also been endorsed by Rep. Alan Grayson (Fla.), Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.), Van Jones, Dennis Kucinich, Jesse Ventura and the author of "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus." Alanis Morissette wrote her campaign song.
She tried to clear up the misconceptions people may have about her and her campaign in an interview with the New York Times. Here is her list.
1. “I would never, ever in my life say I want to go to Washington to heal the soul of Washington.”
2. It is “creepy” to be referred to as a “spiritual teacher.”
3. “I’m an author. When you’ve written 10 books and have six on the New York Times best-seller list — and four have been No. 1 — I think you have a right to be a member of Congress.”
4. “I never called myself a spiritual guru.”
5. “I am not a woo-woo silly person.”
California writer Joseph Mailander wrote about Williamson's campaign on his blog last week.
What nobody actually involved in the race seems to understand about Williamson's candidacy is that she is running a classic writer's campaign; a campaign that will impact the rest of her life as a writer. She is running to win: but for her a "win" is anywhere from top to third. Yes, her victory would even be third, ensuring her impact as a broker.
Norman Mailer ran for Mayor of New York City in 1969 and his candidacy caused Mayor Lindsay fits. Gore Vidal ran for Congress in a Republican district in 1960 and actually outperformed Kennedy in the district. These are the kind of things writers do when they enter politics: cause trouble. You'll note that Norman Mailer continued to sell books after 1969 and Gore after 1960, and both remained politically robust talking heads for the rest of their lives.
Williamson has definitely been the most visible candidate on the national level, but not always in a good way. She seems like the longest of long shots, but she lucked into the one congressional race where she could somehow (maybe?) end up in a runoff.
David Kanuth is a defense attorney. He raised nearly $800,000 in two months from individual donors, beating Ted Lieu, Wendy Greuel and Marianne Williamson in that filing period. Southern California's public radio station responded to this news in the correct fashion: "Who is David Kanuth and how did he raise all that money?"
Who knows, but it's doubtful that money will help him make the runoff since, well, no one knows him. Like many of the candidates in the race, Kanuth has some Hollywood credentials -- he worked as a consultant on the set of "The Lincoln Lawyer." His supporters include Gwyneth Paltrow, Nate Ruess, lead singer of fun, Minnie Driver and Chris O'Donnell. Oh, also LL Cool J.
Like several thirtysomethings thinking about how they can influence politics, he is the creator of a social networking platform, Zaadz.
Producer Brent Roske dropped out of the race and endorsed Williamson, since she was the only independent candidate who had any chance of winning. The fact that Roske decided not to fundraise for his campaign may have had something to do with his lack of success. Roske will still appear on the ballot -- he didn't drop out soon enough to scrub his name from this free-for-all forever.
Roske did win a few endorsements, including one from an actor "who may be best known for his naked wrestling match with Sacha Baron Cohen." Although he will not become a member of the House, Roske was elected bridge officer of the Pacific Mariners Yacht Club. Roske lives on a yacht in Marina del Rey harbor.
Democratic candidate Vince Flaherty -- whose credentials include being in more than 100 movies, sharing a stage with Jimi Hendrix (listen here), being the lead man in a band called the Elves Themselves, and serving as director of the Pacific Palisades Historical Society -- is one of the many candidates who will definitely not replace Waxman. You would think that would mean we shouldn't waste any more time talking about him. You would think that, before you saw the photo on his campaign bio page.
Here's the photo from his IMDB page.
Flaherty's acting roles included Young Stockbroker, Street Tough, Bartender and Mat. He made a callback for a James Bond audition. L.A. Weekly called him a "Hollywood bad boy." He worked as an intern for Rep. Charlie Wilson. Yup, the one from the Tom Hanks movie.
His father was a famous political columnist and sportswriter for the Los Angeles Examiner. Flaherty sold letters sent to his father from Ronald Reagan and John Wayne in order to finance his campaign. Flaherty accompanied his father on a reporting trip with John F. Kennedy when he was a senator from Massachusetts. His father predicted that Flaherty would run for office in a column published about 50 years ago.
Flaherty is perhaps the most interesting man in this race. If this were an electoral contest to find the next star of a Old Spice ad, he might win. Alas.
James Graf, a CEO who loaned a million bucks to himself to jump-start his congressional campaign, ended his campaign on April 11, 2014, saying, "While many people were drawn to my background, experience and message, it became clear that there was no path to place in the top two in the June primary given the strong, large pool of candidates."
Kristie Holmes is a social worker running as a Democrat in the race. She will not make the runoff.
Barbara Mulvaney, who worked with Janet Reno and served as lead prosecutor at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, joined Kristie Holmes in complaining about how the massively wealthy donors (and candidates) in the race made it impossible for candidates like them. The fact that there are so many candidates that they could play baseball games against each other to decide a victor might also be part of the problem.
Conservative Democrat Zein Obagi told the Los Angeles Times last week, "I don't have any expectation" of advancing to the November election. The newspaper decided he was doing it for the YOLO factor. That's all you need to know about Zein Obagi.
Democrat Michael Shapiro has no chance of winning, but, like almost everyone else in this race, he has a resume that has never before been seen in an article about a congressional candidate. He founded Major League Rodeo and worked on the business side of "Wheel of Fortune" and "Dance Fever."
Republican Elan Carr doesn't stand much of a chance of becoming Waxman's replacement in such a liberal district. However, the herd of liberals running in the race could split the vote so badly that Carr advances to the runoff -- especially if he manages to win most of the 33rd District's Republican voters, who make up about 29 percent of the electorate. Two years ago, a candidate formerly known as a Republican -- before he decided to run in the 33rd -- won 46 percent of the vote in a race against Waxman. Mark Leibovich summed up Carr thusly in his New York Times Magazine dispatch from L.A.:
The Republican Elan Carr is a prosecutor and an Iraq War veteran and the president — or “Supreme Master” — of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi. (If you want a congressman who led a Hanukkah service in Saddam Hussein’s former palace, he is your man.)
His campaign ads have focused a lot on his experience as a deputy L.A. County district attorney and have avoided saying the "R-word." However, national "R-word" groups and donors -- such as the Young Guns program of Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Sheldon Adelson -- are very interested in him.
His campaign bio mentions that his wife is a "life-long Democrat," perhaps in an effort to show that he knows how to live in harmony with the opposition -- which would surround him on all sides in L.A. if he were to win.
Republican candidate Lily Gilani is the CEO of BuzzCounsel.com. She used to be the vice president of legal affairs for SleepSolutionDoctors.com. She has no chance of winning, but here's one of her ads.
Protecting Americans from microwaves emitted by wireless technology is one of the main issues on Kevin Mottus's platform.
Kevin Mottus -- surprise! -- does not have the support to make it to the runoff.
Mark Matthew Herd
Independent candidate Mark Matthew Herd's Web site is topped by a call to "Join the Ron Paul Revolution." His campaign biography is the "What it Takes" of campaign Web site biographies. It starts in Scotland, more than a century ago, and takes more than 2,000 words to get to today.
You needn't read it, as Herd will not be heading to Washington anytime soon.
Michael Ian Sachs
Michael Ian Sachs in the lone Green Party candidate in the race.
In many ways, Tom Fox, one of the new names, represents the current mood of voters. If Howard Beale, the bellower of the famous "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore" line in the movie "Network," ran for Congress, he would look a bit like Fox. A local lawyer and Democrat in the Barack Obama mold, Fox saw Waxman's retirement as a chance to, in essence, put up or shut up. So he put up.
The issues vertical on his campaign Web site does project some "mad as hell" vibes.
There's only room for one Republican in this race -- if any -- and Fox doesn't have the support to be it.
Twenty-seven-year-old Theo Milonopoulos won't appear on the ballot tomorrow -- he's running as an independent write-in candidate. In other words, he has no chance of winning. His campaign slogan is "Openly Gay. Fiercely Independent. Ready to Serve." He's studying for a doctorate in political science -- with a focus on national security policy -- at Columbia University, and he used to be a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times. He served as a congressional page for Waxman and worked as a research assistant for former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice while she was writing her memoirs.
He wasn't planning to run for Congress until he read the story on the race in New York Times Magazine titled, "The Real House Candidates of Beverly Hills." He writes on his Web site:
As of a couple of weeks ago, I was perfectly content pursuing my doctorate in political science at Columbia University in New York City. I had just finished up at the library and hopped on the 1 train to head downtown to meet up with some friends at our usual watering hole in midtown.
The New York Times Magazine article I read about the field of candidates running to succeed one of the most distinguished public servants of a generation left my blood boiling. That is why, already finding myself on formal leave from my studies, I decided to run as a write-in candidate and fierce Independent for California’s 33rd District in the United States Congress.
Basically, Milonopoulos is us, watching the race from afar, scratching his head and definitely not going to become a U.S. congressman.
Milonopoulos and his twin brother Niko advocated for gun control in L.A. when they were in high school, founding Kidz Voice L.A. -- which landed them on CNN in 2000.