In a rare move intended to discourage other candidates and avoid a costly, divisive GOP primary next June, Republican lawmakers in Sacramento and the Orange County Lincoln Club have endorsed a Santa Ana real estate broker who is mounting his third campaign to unseat Assemblyman Richard Robinson (D-Garden Grove).
The beneficiary of the twin endorsements is Richard Longshore, who came within 257 votes of defeating Robinson last November in a contest that cost more than $1.2 million.
Robinson, the county's lone Democrat in the Assembly, said recently that he intends to seek reelection, but added he has also explored the possibility of running against Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) next year.
Meanwhile, former Westminster Mayor Kathy Buchoz, the target of the pre-primary endorsement strategy, strongly criticized the move as "an obvious attempt to dissuade me or anyone else from entering the contest. . . . I still contend that a contested primary is healthy for the (Republican) Party."
Political Activists Intrigued
The possibility of a Buchoz campaign against Robinson has intrigued many political activists. The former mayor once worked for Robinson but defected to the GOP two years ago.
Buchoz has been quietly seeking support for her own campaign but has not formally declared her candidacy for the Republican nomination.
Although she has been praised for her party work since joining the GOP, Buchoz has drawn fire from some party workers who supported Longshore's losing campaigns in 1982 and 1984.
However, Dave Ellis, a political consultant advising Buchoz, charged that the pre-primary endorsements were a "very sad attempt at king-making by a few legislators who would like to have a corner on political candidates."
Ellis pointed out that Assemblyman John Lewis (R-Orange), who oversees the Assembly Republican Political Action Committee, the political arm of Assembly Republicans, is Longshore's campaign manager. He said the committee's endorsement of Longshore carries with it $15,000 in "seed" money for Longshore's 1986 campaign.
Lewis supervised former Rep. Wayne Grisham's successful political comeback last year in a Norwalk-Cerritos area Assembly race. He also managed the 1982 campaign of state Sen. Edward R. Royce (R-Anaheim).
"Where was Lewis in 1984 when Longshore ran? Where was he in 1982? He wasn't working on Longshore's behalf then," Ellis said.
Lewis said Thursday that the political action committee is supporting Longshore because "he came so close to winning last time" and because "a bitter, divisive primary would only lessen the chances of Robinson's defeat."
The committee's pre-primary endorsement is "extremely rare," Lewis said. He said he can recall only a few times in 1982 and 1980 that the Assembly Republican campaign unit issued such endorsements.
Coalson C. Morris, Lincoln Club president, said his organization has issued pre-primary endorsements only twice before, in a Congressional contest more than two decades ago and when state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) ran for her seat last year.
Last week, Longshore mailed copies of a Lincoln Club endorsement letter to Republican activists. The letter states:
"Now we see the opportunists and carpetbaggers throwing their hats in when victory looks easy. Where were they in 1982? Where were they in 1984? We hate to see a bloody, debilitating and extremely expensive Republican primary."
Longshore said the purpose of the pre-primary endorsement strategy is simply to "unify the party" and added: "I've always felt that Republicans--and Democrats too--are their own worst enemies."