Liberal activists ratchet up effort to unseat Democrat Jane Harman

By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 25, 2010; 12:51 PM

A national progressive group is throwing its weight behind a primary challenger to Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), the latest attempt by liberal activists to replace an incumbent Democrat they deem too centrist.

Democracy for America, the grass-roots organization founded by former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, will announce Tuesday that it is endorsing Marcy Winograd, a high school teacher and longtime progressive activist who is running against Harman in California's June 8 primary.

Harman, who has represented Southern California since 1993, has long drawn criticism from the liberal base of the Democratic Party for her vote to support the Iraq war and for backing former President George W. Bush's administration on several intelligence and homeland security issues.

In 2006, Winograd challenged Harman -- whose 36th Congressional District stretches along the Pacific coast and includes Los Angeles-area beaches -- but received only 38 percent of the vote.

This spring, Harman won the California Democratic Party's endorsement, but only after being forced into a floor fight. Both candidates will be on the ballot next month to determine the nomination.

Dean's brother, Jim, who chairs Democracy for America, said Harman is vulnerable but expressed doubt that Winograd will be able to topple her this time. By getting behind Winograd, he said, progressive activists can hold Harman accountable to the party's liberal base.

"Marcy Winograd will be a good campaigner," Dean said in an interview. "What we also know is that Jane Harman is now having to spend some time back in the district and be accountable."

Arshad Hasan, Democracy for America's executive director, added: "Jane Harman has been a disappointment to our progressives, and they've been looking to bring some accountability to Jane Harman."

Harvey Englander, a consultant for Harman's campaign, said the congresswoman has received a "tremendous amount of progressive support," including from some of the most powerful Democrats from California: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

"I think some of the so-called progressive groups are not looking at a comprehensive record of achievement and a comprehensive voting history," Englander said. "They're being extraordinarily selective and therefore really wasting money going after a Democrat who they can agree with about 98 percent or 97 percent of the time."

Harman joins a growing list of moderate Democratic lawmakers who have been targeted this year by progressive groups. Last week, Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), who switched parties after three decades as a Republican, lost the Democratic primary after facing resistance and skepticism from Democratic voters. And in Arkansas, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a moderate seeking a third term, was forced into a primary runoff against Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, whose campaign is being fueled by progressive groups and labor unions.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company