Attorney David M. Shell's last-minute entry into the 44th District Assembly race has sparked surprise, shock and some dismay among Westside Republican leaders who said they had no idea he planned to run.
Shell, who was backed by former President Gerald R. Ford and other GOP leaders in his unsuccessful bid to unseat Assemblyman Tom Hayden in 1984, entered the race just a few hours before last week's filing deadline.
Major candidates for political office usually discuss their campaign plans with party leaders, but Republican activists said Shell kept his intentions confidential until after he had filed his official papers with the county.
"It surprised everybody," said William Thornbury, chairman of the 44th District Republican Central Committee. "I had not counted on him entering."
'Doing His Own Thing'
"To the best of my knowledge David is doing his own thing," said another party activist who asked to remain anonymous. "He hasn't talked to anyone."
Just a few months ago, the 39-year-old Shell ruled out a rematch with Hayden (D-Santa Monica), who beat him convincingly two years ago.
But on Wednesday afternoon he drove to the county registrar-recorder's office in the City of Commerce with his wife, Marcia, and quietly filled out declaration-of-intent papers. Shell confirmed that he did so without informing the local party leadership. Asked why, he said, "I do things in an unusual way."
Shell was somewhat vague about his reasons for entering the June 3 GOP primary against Bill Mundell, a 25-year-old economic consultant, and Gloria J. Stout, 41, a Pacific Palisades political activist and businesswoman.
He said he would use the primary as a forum for challenging Hayden's record, but also hinted at the possibility that he may withdraw before the June vote. He declined to be more specific but said, "The current representative has got to be beaten. If that takes an open debate during the primary, then me being involved is important. Taking out declaration-of-intent papers is the only way to ensure I have the option (to run). But nothing is set in concrete."
Hayden had no comment on Shell's candidacy. Mundell and Stout both said they were unaware of his plans before Wednesday. But they added that Shell's presence would have no effect on their plans to run in June.
'Calls Weren't Returned'
"I have never spoken to David Shell," Mundell said. "I've made several calls to his office, but they weren't returned. . . . In one sense, though, this doesn't surprise me. The fact that there are now three candidates in the primary is a sign that people are taking this race very seriously."
Stout, who worked on Shell's steering committee in 1984, said her recent telephone calls also had gone unanswered. She said she was not sure what to expect from Shell, who is known as a tough campaigner.
"At this point I certainly don't intend to pull out or pull back," Stout said. "David has his reasons for running and I have mine. But I'm still sort of shocked in a way. I hope this doesn't become a divisive campaign."
Shell said he has "no problems" with Mundell or Stout as candidates. But other observers contend that Shell entered the primary because he did not believe that either of them posed a serious challenge to Hayden in the predominantly Democratic district.
GOP organizer Thornbury said Shell will cause problems for both of them.
"He's definitely going to hurt the other candidates," said Thornbury, who also serves as president of the Santa Monica Republican Club. "David is the front-runner. They have to beat him at this point."
Thornbury also said three candidates "cause a drain on money." Another observer said funds are already short because of other races at the statewide and national levels and the fact that Hayden is considered virtually unbeatable in the 44th District.