The special general election is likely to be held in June, and would coincide with a proposed special election Gov. Jerry Brown (D) wants to allow voters to weigh in on temporary increases in state taxes to fix the state's budget woes.
"It's going to be a short sprint of an election," Los Angeles County Democratic Party Chairman Eric C. Bauman told On Call. "It's never easy, especially if you're running against someone like Janice Hahn who has near-universal name identification."
But the vote to pick Harman's successor will also mark the first time the state's top-two primary system has been used for a federal election. Voters passed an amendment last year allowing for the top-two vote-getters, regardless of primary, to advance to a final head-to-head election if no one candidate breaks the 50 percent threshold.
The push behind the initiative last year was that so more moderate candidates might emerge, rather than the extremes of each party winning their primary and the election by default. And in a district where that tug of war has manifested before, this shortened special election could test that theory and pit the two competing wings of the party against each other. However, if a moderate and a more liberal candidate emerge, the moderate candidate may benefit from Republican and independent votes in the election, possibly tipping the scale in his or her favor.
"My gut feeling is this is the first one where you could have serious Democrats running against each other," Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the non-partisan California Target Book said. "More progressive Democrats have always been frustrated by the fact that they don't have their own [Rep. Lynn Woolsey]. I could see a real battle between those wings."
Republicans were quick to point fingers at Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for the Blue Dog's early exit. Pelosi and Harman were never friendly, and their feud exacerbated after Pelosi passed over Harman for Intelligence Committee chairwoman when Democrats regained the majority in 2006.
"Because her caucus is in disarray, Nancy Pelosi's iron grip has forced out one of her long-time adversaries. Jane Harman's 16 years in Congress included an ethics investigation, and her exit is another gain for Pelosi's efforts to further strengthen her party's job-destroying agenda," said National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Joanna Burgos. "Nancy Pelosi will now undoubtedly try to seize this opportunity and install her own hand-picked candidate in this deep blue district in her home state."