Election issues in this L.A. bedroom community are usually a litany of tax-cut promises delivered by little-known locals. But this year the leafy streets of Pasadena are ringing with debates over oral sex and presidential ethics, and genocidal slaughter, in what has become the most expensive race in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Pasadena has somehow become the final battlefield in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. More bizarrely, this local campaign has also become a key trial of the Armenian genocide of 1915.
The two main candidates have raised $14.3-million (Canadian) for the campaign, more than 40 per cent of what Canada's five main parties spent in the 1997 federal election.
It all began when James Rogan, Pasadena's Republican representative in the House, decided to make his name by leading the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Mr. Rogan, like many Republicans, believed this would be a popular move. But even before Mr. Clinton was acquitted by the Senate in 1999, polls showed that a majority of Americans viewed the impeachment as a petty waste of time.
The well-off voters of Pasadena, normally solidly conservative, were suddenly divided equally between Democrats and Republicans.
The Democratic Party now has thrown unprecedented sums of money behind its challenger, state Senator Adam Schiff. The Democrats are within a few seats of regaining control of the House, and Mr. Schiff, who stands at 51 per cent in the polls, is seen as one of their great hopes.
He has collected millions in contributions from national groups such as MoveOn.org, an on-line fundraising effort dedicated to defeating candidates who voted to impeach Mr. Clinton.
Mr. Rogan, against the wishes of his advisers, has made the Lewinsky scandal a key plank in his campaign. This week, he was handing out photos of the 13 Republican impeachment prosecutors, with him smiling in the middle. Contributions to his campaign have come from national groups such as Managers PAC, a fund designed to defend the impeachment prosecutors from political backlash.
A high-school dropout and former judge known for championing far-right issues, Mr. Rogan seems happy to make this race a proxy battle over the merits of the impeachment.
"My campaign folks tried for months to get me never to talk about the I-word. It's part of my record," Mr. Rogan said. "It's not the whole record, but being silent might somehow communicate that I am sorry. It was history, important history, and it was for a principle."
In response, Mr. Schiff is pressing the impeachment issue repeatedly in television and radio ads that seem to appear every few minutes (California's airwaves have otherwise been free of election commercials this season, with both parties writing off the state as a Democratic stronghold).
"I think voters want to get away from the strong partisanship we've seen in Congress," Mr. Schiff said.
Many national lobby groups are using the Pasadena race to fight larger battles. That's where the Armenian genocide comes into the picture.
Mr. Rogan, in an attempt to appeal to the 30,000 Armenian-Americans in his district, tabled a resolution in the House this month calling on Mr. Clinton to officially recognize the events of 1915, when 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered by Turkey's Ottoman regime.
The United States has never officially acknowledged it as genocide, largely because doing so could jeopardize a long-standing alliance with Turkey.
Last week, the resolution was criticized as strategically dangerous by Clinton officials and intelligence authorities. In Turkey, it was condemned by the government and characterized by one newspaper as "the Armenian bribe."
Although his resolution is unlikely to pass the House, it has made Mr. Rogan look better to the Armenian community, who tend to vote Democrat.
Much of this sabre-rattling, of course, has been lost on mainstream voters of Pasadena, for whom election debates are usually about health-care funding and issues such as crime.
"I don't even think I'm going to vote this time," said Tina Hilliard, a dental assistant. "They stopped talking to people like me a long time ago, and now I think this is all about people in Washington getting revenge on each other. I think I'm going to stay home."