Amid reports that former Lt. Gov. Mike Curb now plans to seek election to his old job, Orange County Supervisor Bruce Nestande, who has been running for lieutenant governor for the last six months, said Tuesday that he wasn't worried about more competition.
And if rumors hold true that two other prospective Republican candidates for the job--Assemblyman Don Sebastiani (R-Sonoma) and state Sen. H.L. Richardson (R-Glendora)--are dropping out, Nestande's campaign to win statewide recognition could turn out to be easier than he thought, the supervisor said.
Curb said Tuesday that he is "very, very likely" to announce his candidacy this year for his old job as California lieutenant governor, and Curb's campaign adviser told The Times that the decision is even more likely than that--it's definite.
"On New Year's Eve, there's good news," Nestande said Tuesday. "We prefer to have one-on-one against Mike Curb. Our chances are enhanced by having that kind of confrontation"--a head-to-head contest against the former record promoter, instead of splitting votes in next June's primary between four Republican candidates.
In an interview, the 45-year-old supervisor discussed his plans for the coming race, and said he has several strengths that enhance his prospects for the nomination.
First, he said, is that many of his campaign workers around the state worked for Curb when Curb was elected lieutenant governor in 1978, but will remain in the Nestande camp this time. Among the ex-Curb workers whom Nestande has tapped as campaign chairmen include San Diego bank executive Gordon Luce and Benjamin F. Biaggini, retired board chairman of Southern Pacific Railway in San Francisco. Some of Gov. George Deukmejian's financial backers have also signed on to the Curb campaign, including San Diego savings and loan executive Kim Fletcher.
Another strength, Nestande said, is fund raising. So far, Nestande said, he has raised $400,000--meeting the goal he had set for Jan. 1 if he were to make the statewide run, which he estimated would cost as much as $2 million by next November.
So far, most of Nestande's backing comes from Orange County, including $200,000 raised at a single dinner here in the fall.
"I had to prove to people in California that I could raise money in my home base, so they wouldn't say: 'Bruce, if you can't raise money in Orange County, why are you coming here?' "
Pushes His Cause
Nestande said it was hard work convincing county Republicans that he had the caliber for a statewide race.
"It was not a foregone conclusion at all," he said. "You start going statewide and there's a lot of people who pat you on the back and everything. . . . But you have to say to them: 'Have I proven to you that I am worthy of going statewide?'
"It's tough. It's work. It's asking for the sale," he said, shaping an analogy from his stint as a real estate salesman long ago.
In addition to the fund-raising figure, Nestande said he met another one of his Jan. 1 goals--to "lock up Orange County" by ob taining commitments of support from key Republican leaders and financial backers in the county.
To back up his claim, he cited support from the GOP's wealthiest volunteer organization, the Lincoln Club of Orange County, as well as from county developers Katherine Thompson, Donald Bren and William Lyon.
County Republican Chairman Thomas A. Fuentes suggested Tuesday that Nestande's claim of having "locked up" the county was premature, however.
"I would say that he has a mild head start," Fuentes said, but added: "To date, there just hasn't been any presence by Sebastiani or Curb in the county."
Cites 'Campaign Network'
Nestande said he has commitments from about 500 to 600 volunteers around the state to distribute literature and hold fund-raising activities for him this spring. He claimed a "campaign network" in San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Contra Costa and San Mateo counties and promised that the first in a $1.5-million series of radio, television and print ads would begin in early February.
Nestande acknowledged that he trails Curb in statewide name recognition because he has never run for statewide office. But, he noted, some of Curb's identification is negative. A Field Poll last summer gave Curb "a negative name identification second only to Rose Bird," he said.
If Curb enters the race and both Sebastiani and Richardson drop out--as the Sacramento Bee reported Tuesday--Nestande said his chances of election will be enhanced.
Another recent poll, Nestande said, showed that Curb has "locked in" about 30% of the Republican vote because he is so well known. If the remaining 70% of the vote is up for grabs, Nestande said, he is pleased he might not have to compete with Sebastiani and Richardson for a share of it. "It was to Curb's advantage to have as many in the race. If Curb has anything to do with trying to get him (Sebastiani) out of the race, he's making a mistake."
Curb, a pop-country recording executive who served as lieutenant governor from 1978 to 1982, said Tuesday that the response to his one preliminary fund-raiser had encouraged him to re-enter electoral politics.
"The fund raising has been so positive--having one event and receiving the kind of support I've received and the kind of endorsements I've received--it seems to me there's a lot of interest," he said. "It's very, very likely that I will run."
Political consultant Bill Roberts, retained by Curb as a campaign strategist, said in an interview published Tuesday that Curb "is definitely going to (run), but the timing of the announcement is still a ways off."
Times political writer John Balzar contributed to this story.