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Veteran Assemblyman, Little-Known Judge Seek 38th District Nomination : 2 Democrats Vie for Chance to Take On Dornan

April 13, 1986|BOB SECTER | Times Staff Writer and

Although the empty seats have lured several Republicans and Democrats into those primary elections, Assemblymen Wally Herger (R-Rio Oso) in Chappie's northern district and Ernie Konnyu (R-Saratoga) in Zschau's Silicon Valley area are expected to walk away with both their primary and general elections. Indeed, both men are far better known than other contenders because their state legislative districts largely coincide with the areas' congressional districts.

Name recognition also could be a major factor in the race to replace Fiedler, who represents the strongly Republican 21st District that meanders through southern Ventura County and parts of the San Fernando Valley as well as Santa Catalina Island.

Debut of Bob Hope's Son

Highlighting this contest is the political debut of Tony Hope, a veteran Washington lobbyist who is the adopted son of comedian Bob Hope. Simi Valley Mayor Elton Gallegly, backed strongly by Ventura County developers, is challenging Hope in a contest between two men who both vow to faithfully back President Reagan's foreign and domestic policy agenda.

Early opinion polls showed popular GOP Assemblyman Tom McClintock of Thousand Oaks to be the front-runner, but McClintock pulled out of the race, contending that the fund-raising power of Hope's famous father would almost surely put Tony Hope on the road to Washington before the race was over.

Citing similar fears, Gallegly plans to raise a sizable $400,000 and chides Hope for moving back to Northridge from the nation's capital just before announcing his candidacy.

"Mr. Hope hasn't lived in California for the last 12 years," Gallegly charged. "If we're talking about credentials, I have a proven record of making a commitment to this district for a long time."

In his defense, Hope argues that he was raised in the San Fernando Valley and that he possesses a good insider's knowledge of how to get things done in Washington. As his experience, he cites his years running the lobbying office of a major national accounting firm and serving on several federal panels, including the Grace Commission, appointed by President Reagan to study ways of streamlining the federal government.

Name Can Detract

While Hope acknowledged that the family fame is a factor in his campaign, he said it sometimes can detract from his political message.

"While it helps me open a door . . . I often can't come up to people's expectations," the affable Hope explained in an interview. "It's a mixed blessing. I don't tell one-liners, and I can't tap dance."

Private polls by the candidates indicate that neither has captured the imagination of Republican voters, but Gallegly did gain a slight edge last month when the California Republican Assembly, the largest political volunteer group in the state, formally backed him for the nomination.

To a large extent, the groundwork for the widespread inactivity in this year's congressional contests was laid by the late Rep. Philip Burton of San Francisco, a top Democratic leader. Before his death in 1983, Burton engineered a revamping of district lines that turned several shaky seats into solid Democratic and Republican bastions, while ensuring the Democratic Party's lopsided control of California's congressional delegation for years to come.

Eliminated Competition

"Burton's reapportionment plan essentially eliminated competitive districts," lamented Harvey Hukari, a San Francisco political consultant who served as the Republican National Committee's western regional representative from 1976 through 1985.

The one exception to the plan was the 38th District in northern Orange and southern Los Angeles counties, which "was always the most marginal in the plan," according to political consultant Michael Berman. Although Orange County has a reputation as a Republican stronghold, Democrats hold a narrow but dwindling edge among registered voters in the district, which is home to Disneyland as well as the bulk of the county's burgeoning Indochinese refugee population.

In 1984, the district was the only one in California to change hands, as Dornan--himself a three-term lawmaker who left the House in 1982 after his Santa Monica-area seat was gerrymandered into Democratic hands--moved to Garden Grove and edged out incumbent Democrat Jerry Patterson. The race cost both candidates more than $1.7 million.

Now, reasoning that Dornan may have upended Patterson on the strength of President Reagan's landslide reelection victory, Democratic strategists think they can recapture the district with the right candidate and enough money.

Able to Cite Record

Sumner, the party chairman, began cultivating Carter to take on Dornan shortly after that 1984 election. The glib, affable jurist can overcome his lack of political experience and anonymity, Sumner believes--and, perhaps more importantly, can cite his record as a former homicide prosecutor and a decorated Vietnam veteran to withstand expected attacks from Dornan about Democrats being soft on crime and communism.

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