Running in a drastically redrawn district against a free-spending self-funder looking to tap into anti-incumbent sentiment, Waxman is sounding the alarm: He isn’t saying outright he’s in trouble but is warning supporters he needs their help for the most serious race of his nearly four-decade congressional career. And after years of barely having to lift a finger in his races, the Democrat says he has begun putting the pieces in place to wage a hard-fought campaign.

Since he won his seat in 1974, Waxman has never received less than 61 percent of the vote — in fact, his friends say, the last time he was seriously contested was in 1968, when he was elected to the California Assembly. Through the years, Waxman has used his deep well of campaign cash almost exclusively to aid fellow Democrats.