The Note: 'Both Hopeful and Precarious'

"What worries some Democrats about the debate over Social Security is that Bush stands for something and they do not, other than opposition to the creation of private accounts. So far, party leaders believe that posture has served them well. But some Democrats fear that Bush, by having pushed for changes and by appealing to younger voters with his proposal for the accounts, will score a political victory even if he does not get the main element of his plan."

". . . Bush may have underestimated Democratic resiliency on Social Security as he steps up his travel and salesmanship. But the more his plan appears to be in trouble, the more pressure will grow on Reid and Pelosi for a Democratic plan. Many Democrats are mindful that Bush has reversed course before -- on creation of the Homeland Security Department and the commission to investigate the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- and claimed political victory in the process."

But the danger for the Democrats, of course, is the same as it is for the President: being the first to talk in detail about tax increases and benefit cuts is scary.

The bottom line on today's mayoral elections in Los Angeles: Incumbent James Hahn is in real danger of losing his job.

And with no serious Republican candidates in the race, this is more about personality than national politics, even if we are talking about the nation's second largest city.

Hahn, city council member Antonio Villaraigosa, former police chief Bernard Parks, and former state assembly speaker Bob Hertzberg are likely to finish in the top four. (There are 12 candidates running; an absolute majority is improbable, so the top two candidates will advance to a May 17 run-off.)

Hahn's tenure has been marked by struggles with the city council over police staffing, the high profile firing of a black police chief (Parks), a declining crime rate, and his successful effort to prevent the San Fernando Valley from seceding. If Hahn doesn't place first or second today, his backers will blame the Valley succession nix and Park's ouster, both of which have caused him to try to reconfigure his political base.

The son of a popular county commissioner and white civil rights icon, Hahn was first elected by drawing support from middle class suburban voters in the Valley and from African Americans. Hispanics, who make up nearly fifty percent of city residents, supported Villaraigosa that year; white liberals were split. (Re: Hispanics: as we said, they're about half of the city, but far fewer are eligible to vote, and fewer than that actually do so.)

This year, the demographies are different. Hahn has lost most of his black support, which is now split between Villaraigosa and Parks, but gained the endorsement (and, presumably, the vote) of organized labor. Hertzberg reached out to Republicans and white moderates; Villaraigosa now gets many self-identified liberals. Los Angeles is historically friendly to incumbents, but Hahn's supporters have less ardor than his opponents, so a high turn-out election should benefit them, not him. Plus, one theory touted by political types holds than in a post-Arnold California electorate, personality means more than it did, so Mr. Hahn, who is seen as Gray Davis dull, has an added disadvantage. (The Governor endorsed Hertzberg's main policy proposal.)

Most observers expect turnout to be quite low. Angelinos seem rather characteristically unengaged when it comes to this race.

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