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The political downside for manager Rogan


PASADENA, Calif. -- Rep. James Rogan -- the man millions of TV viewers recently came to know as "Mr. Manager Rogan" -- says if he loses his House seat in the next election as a result of his role in the presidential impeachment, "that's a consequence I'm willing to accept."

Democrats here are working to make sure that happens to the second-term Republican who hails from a congressional district located just east of downtown Los Angeles.

Strategy session

Democratic State Chairman Art Torres met with about 60 local party activists Saturday to begin long-range planning to run the strongest possible Democratic candidate against Mr. Rogan and to provide adequate financing.

Four candidates are being mentioned: Adam Schiff, a state senator who is rated the likely choice, if he decides to run, two state assemblymen, all well-known here, and actor Barry Gordon, who nearly beat Mr. Rogan last November.

Local Democratic leaders say they expect their candidate will be agreed upon without a primary fight, and will have much more campaign money than Mr. Gordon did then, when Mr. Rogan outspent him by more than 2 to 1 but won by 50 percent to 47 percent.

'Betrayed voters'

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has targeted Mr. Rogan's seat for special treatment and the liberal group People for the American Way has his 27th congressional district constituents on its list of "America's Most Betrayed Voters," because they voted for President Clinton in both 1992 and 1996. The organization has vowed to beat all House Republicans who, like Mr. Rogan, voted to impeach the president despite constituent endorsement of Mr. Clinton in two elections.

Reports, denied by the White House, that the president was privately vowing to work for the defeat of all 13 of the House managers in his Senate trial likely will assure ample contributions from Republican conservatives in Mr. Rogan's next re-election fight. "There's often a big backlash when a president uses his power to defeat opponents," Mr. Rogan said. "I might benefit from it."

But even before the deliberate, unsmiling Mr. Rogan became a sort of poster child for Democrats determined to pay back the House Republicans for impeaching Mr. Clinton, his future in his California district was in jeopardy.

Solidly in Republican hands for 24 years before Mr. Rogan was elected to his first term in 1996, the district's changing racial and ethnic composition was already altering its political allegiance.

Joining a substantial Democratic-voting, African-American population already in Pasadena and South Pasadena has been a steady influx of Asians and Latinos, until nearly half of the district is now foreign-born or of recent foreign origin.

These relative newcomers, angered by retired GOP Gov. Pete Wilson's backing of Proposition 187 barring social services to illegal immigrants, boosted Democratic registration and turnout in November to Mr. Rogan's detriment.

Sal Russo, a longtime Republican consultant in the state, says "the demographics [in the district] are changing so quickly that it's just a matter of time before it becomes Democratic." Democratic consultant Bill Carrick agrees, adding that Mr. Rogan "is probably going to be the last Republican representing that area." But Mr. Russo argues that Mr. Rogan can survive his controversial performance in the impeachment trial because he is "a first-class candidate."

Ralph McKnight, former Democratic chairman of the local assembly district, says Mr. Rogan got elected "by passing himself off as a moderate," but his sharp prosecution of Mr. Clinton revealed him as much more conservative than his constituents realized. Tim Wendler, the current district chairman, says many voters here "felt betrayed by him" because he said as a candidate for re-election that he would "keep a very open mind on impeachment" but then in their view quickly closed it.

A local businessman, Lorenzo Hernando, who voted for Mr. Rogan in November, says he won't next time. Congressmen, he says, "are supposed to be the mouthpiece of the people," and Mr. Rogan turned his back on the clear voice of the people here against impeachment.

For "Mr. Manager Rogan," it looks like a hard road ahead.

Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover write from the Washington Bureau.

Pub Date: 2/24/99

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