By a vote of 184 to 54, the California Republican Assembly, California's largest conservative Republican volunteer organization, endorsed Orange County Supervisor Bruce Nestande for secretary of state in the June primary over Ralph E. Winkler, retired Air Force major.
The vote by delegates of the 12,000-member group, which met in Fresno over the weekend, was a boost to Nestande's month-old campaign. Since last June, Nestande, 47, had been running as a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. But last month he shifted to a campaign for secretary of state after determining that he could not raise the $4 million believed necessary for a successful lieutenant governor's race.
As a practical matter, the endorsement will mean that every piece of literature sent to Republicans can indicate "that the oldest Republican organization in the state has endorsed Bruce Nestande," Nestande campaign aide Ron Rogers said.
Nestande's win over the less well-known Winkler was not unexpected, but Nestande supporters, like Alberta Christy, a CRA officer and chairwoman of the Black Republican Council of Orange County, had said before the meeting that they would have to lobby hard to gain the endorsement.
Winkler, 58, is a Lakeside resident who is a 10-year CRA member. Winkler has said that he is most proud of his campaign to retain the Panama Canal as U.S. territory. Winkler had tried to paint Nestande as too liberal to deserve a CRA endorsement and had quoted several newspaper stories about Nestande that described him as "part of the liberal old guard" and a Republican politician who "voted more like a Democrat."
However, Rogers said the charge that Nestande was too liberal never carried much weight. "Anyone who has been a delegate to three national conventions as a delegate for Ronald Reagan can't be too liberal," Rogers said.
The Nestande endorsement came after the CRA wrangled over who to back in the Republican U.S. Senate primary.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, a 20-year CRA member, was expected to lead delegate voting but he got an unpleasant surprise as another candidate, Assemblyman Robert Naylor (R-Menlo Park), got 139 votes to Antonovich's 120 on the seventh and final ballot.
For Naylor, who has little money and low ratings in statewide opinion polls, the vote--while not the two-thirds needed for an endorsement--was a moral victory in his effort to present himself as a viable U.S. Senate candidate from Northern California.
"This just shows that hard work and grass-roots politics pays off," a beaming Naylor said. "This primary may come down to everybody's second choice. I think I still have a chance."
Also scoring high with the California Republican Assembly delegates in the early voting was former broadcast commentator Bruce Herschensohn of Los Angeles, who placed second to Antonovich on the first couple of ballots.
Does an endorsement by the California Republican Assembly matter in the modern world of California politics, which is dominated by television and high-powered political consultants?
Yes, said former California Republican Assembly president Steve Frank. He said that although an endorsement is more important in local races because it activates vital volunteer help, it also sends a signal to activists and some contributors in a statewide race.
The organization, which was founded in 1933, is not known for picking winners in U.S. Senate races.
For example, no candidate backed by the California Republican Assembly has been elected to the Senate in 20 years. In 1982, the group gave only eight votes to Pete Wilson, who went on to win the Republican nomination and the general election.
Times staff writer Keith Love contributed to this story from Fresno.