Four years ago, in a district stretching from Malibu into West Los Angeles, West Hollywood, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, Waxman ran unopposed. Two years ago, in the same district, Waxman easily dispatched his Republican opponent, winning two-thirds of the vote. In both races, political analysts said, Waxman hardly campaigned. Nearly all voters recognized his name.
But California's new redistricting process changed everything. The Citizens Redistricting Commission - created when voters supported Proposition 20 in the 2010 election - drew a more competitive district, combining parts of Waxman's Westside base with new turf in the South Bay. The 33rd District starts in Malibu, runs east into parts of West Los Angeles and Beverly Hills and hugs the coast through the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
It means many voters will see Waxman on the ballot Tuesday for the first time.
To his opponent, Manhattan Beach businessman Bill Bloomfield, the new district presents opportunity. Running as an independent -- he left the Republican Party in 2011 after years of donating generously to it -- Bloomfield seeks to portray Waxman as an out-of-touch liberal who avoids local issues to focus on national ones. If elected, Bloomfield promises voters he'll break through Washington gridlock by working with both parties.
Unlike many previous Waxman challengers, Bloomfield has the money to make his case. According to campaign finance reports, Bloomfield has loaned or given his campaign more than $6 million since Jan. 1. Adding to his independent mantra, he is not taking money from political action committees and has raised little from private donors. Since January, Bloomfield's campaign received about $350,000 from contributors other than himself, reports show.
The result has been a competitive campaign, with television advertisements, direct mail and appearances by both candidates throughout the district.
Most political analysts say they expect Waxman to win, but the incumbent has taken the challenge seriously. Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 17, Waxman raised more than $1.5 million, finance reports show.
"I never take an election for granted, but I have had to take this one quite seriously because I have an opponent that is putting in millions and millions of his own dollars in his effort and because there is a large area that is new to me, and I am new to them," Waxman said.
The incumbent said he wants voters to learn about his accomplishments -- his efforts to implement more stringent warnings on cigarette packages, his work to improve the Clean Air Act, and his fight to require more complete nutritional information on food labels. He also stresses that Bloomfield is a longtime Republican who only recently switched to become an independent.
Bloomfield has said he will caucus with neither party in Washington, a promise Waxman calls naive. By tradition, even independent representatives align with a party for administrative purposes.
"I think Mr. Bloomfield doesn't know what the legislative process is all about," Waxman said. "If he comes to Washington and preaches to us that we need to be good boys and girls, I don't think that is going to cut it."
Bloomfield is running an unusual campaign. Sometimes, he is a fierce campaigner, hitting Waxman for living in Washington, D.C., and for failing to properly oversee the federal government's loan guarantee to Solyndra, a maker of solar panels that ultimately went into bankruptcy.
At other times, he speaks like a quixotic candidate who is running merely to give a longtime incumbent a good challenge rather than to win. He talks about a recent event in Beverly Hills in which a voter thanked him for running because the race has forced Waxman to focus on local issues. He calls Waxman too partisan and said he hopes this race -- even if Waxman wins -- will soften the veteran lawmaker.
"If Congressman Waxman goes back to Washington and takes a bipartisan approach, that would be a real victory," Bloomfield said. "He has led the charge for partisanship. It would be nice if he leads the charge the other way."
Despite Bloomfield's money advantage, the district's metrics suggest he will have difficulty winning. In June, Bloomfield finished second in the eight-way primary, winning 24.6 percent of the vote to Waxman's 45.3 percent. And even though much of the district is new to Waxman, Democrats own a considerable voter registration advantage: 44 percent to 28 percent, with 22 percent stating no party preference.
"Bloomfield is trying to take as many center right votes as he can," former Los Angeles Republican campaign consultant Allan Hoffenblum said. "Bloomfield can do well in Palos Verdes, the beach cities and Torrance. That's an area that would identify least for Henry Waxman."
But even if Bloomfield captures those votes, they likely will not be enough, Democratic consultant Hal Dash said.
"If the whole district was new, that might be more interesting," he said. "But so much of the district is (Waxman's) old district he's tough to beat. They love him on the Westside."
Tracy Westen, chief executive of the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies, which advocated for the new redistricting process, said this race proves the commission has been a success, even though Waxman remains the heavy favorite.
"For the first time, I am actually getting mailers from Waxman," he said. "You never heard anything from him in past elections. No one even ran against him of any significance. He was never forced to defend or articulate what his record was."
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