A 25-year-old political newcomer in a navy blue business suit stood before a small group of Republican party organizers this week and told them he is the man who can defeat Democratic Assemblyman Tom Hayden in November.
Bill Mundell, an economist who has been vigorously working to win support for his campaign, called Hayden a cynical and ineffective leader. He said the 44th Assembly District seat is winnable if Republicans focus on Hayden's current political record instead of his radical past.
Speaking Tuesday morning, Mundell pledged to run a positive campaign. He said he would avoid the acrid exchanges commonplace during the last two 44th District races. But he acknowledged that he faces a tough challenge.
"There's a great deal of skepticism about this race," Mundell told about a dozen Republican leaders over breakfast at the Sheraton-Miramar hotel in Santa Monica. "But I refuse to accept the possibility that we'll continue to be governed by someone who shares so few of our concerns."
Mundell raised a few eyebrows when he called Hayden's past irrelevant to the campaign. Republicans have made a major issue of the liberal Democrat's Vietnam Era anti-war activities in their two previous attempts to defeat him, but Mundell said the voters are tired of hearing the same criticisms of Hayden and his wife, actress Jane Fonda.
Hayden 'Quite Cynical'
"I believe Tom Hayden has become quite cynical about the political process and that's what I intend to expose," Mundell said. "I have no interest in what he did before 1982."
Mundell, who has never run for public office, said he has lived in Santa Monica about a year. He holds a master's degree in international and public affairs and a master's in business administration from Columbia University. He is director of business development for Data Resources Inc., an economic forecasting and consulting firm, and he teaches economics part time at Santa Monica College.
Republicans have publicly said it is doubtful that anyone can beat Hayden, a proven fund-raiser, in the predominantly Democratic district that stretches from Malibu to West Los Angeles. Two of the people who attended Tuesday's meeting called Mundell impressive, but said they still are not convinced that he has a real shot at turning the two-term assemblyman out of office.
Donna Little, president of Los Angeles Professional Republican Women Federated, said Mundell is "bright and articulate." She added, however, that he may face impossible odds. "The registration edge and financial edge Hayden has make this a very difficult race for a Republican to win," Little said. "A lot of money has been spent against Hayden and we've seen the results."
Little also noted that Mundell may face opposition from his own party in the June primary. Gloria J. Stout, a Pacific Palisades businesswoman who ran an unsuccessful campaign against Los Angeles City Councilman Marvin Braude in 1981, has indicated that she plans to challenge Hayden too.
"There are a lot of people in the community who have known Gloria for a long time," Little said. "She has been active in campaigns and in the Pacific Palisades business community. Bill (Mundell) is newer. . . . He has to get out and meet people that Gloria already knows."
'Personality and Charm'
Another person who attended the meeting and asked to remain anonymous said Republicans may decide that Stout has done more to deserve their support.
"The biggest thing that came out of the meeting was that Bill is a stronger candidate as far as personality and charm," the GOP organizer said. "It's going to be that against the political IOUs Stout has collected."
Mundell said he expects to see Stout at several Republican campaign functions during the next few months, but added that he does not plan to debate her. Asked about his stand on the issues, Mundell said he is still planning campaign strategy and selecting the subjects he wants to address.
The only issue he touched on Tuesday was rent control. Mundell said he supported a measure being promoted by the apartment industry that would allow landlords to increase rents on vacant apartments in Santa Monica, a practice currently forbidden. "I'm overwhelmingly convinced that vacancy decontrol is the perfect compromise for this community," Mundell said. "We have to do something to protect . . . the housing stock."
Mundell said he has been working on his campaign for more than six months. He argued that Hayden, who won about 53% of the vote in 1982 and 56% in 1984, is vulnerable, and that Republicans can win the 44th District by enlisting the support of Democrats who are unhappy with Hayden's leadership.
Mundell said he expects the campaign to cost about $350,000. Stephen R. Frank, his campaign manager, said Mundell has about $5,000 in the bank and will hold a $250-a-person fund-raiser on Feb. 11, when he officially announces his candidacy.