The Republican primary in the 44th Assembly District may be one of the tightest races on the Westside next month. But Bill Mundell and Gloria J. Stout, the two GOP candidates competing for the right to face Assemblymen Tom Hayden in November, aren't letting that stand in the way of their friendship.
People who have followed the campaign say Mundell and Stout often look more like running mates than competitors in a close race. They have appeared side by side at so many functions that one guest recently asked if they car-pooled.
No, Stout replied, they do not. But she did give Mundell a ride home once.
"I'm friendly with my competitors," said Stout, a 41-year-old Pacific Palisades businesswoman. "I don't think there's any reason not to be."
Mundell, a 25-year-old economist, said the feeling is mutual. "There is an agreement not to make a major deal out of the primary and not spend a lot of money," Mundell said. "We'll let the voters decide who they want."
The campaign has been so low-key, however, that voters may be hard pressed to make a choice unless they happen to know Mundell or Stout personally.
Both candidates are affable, attractive, moderate Republicans with concerns about social issues and the environment. Both are popular in GOP circles. Both contend that they possess the skills to turn Hayden out of office in the heavily Democratic district that stretches from Malibu to Century City.
Some prognosticators give Stout a slight edge for her experience as a party activist. But others point out that Mundell has gained momentum during the past five months. "You really can't pick a winner," said one Republican worker. "Gloria has more loyalties. But Bill has won over more people."
The 44th District has not been kind to Republicans in the last two elections. Bill Hawkins spent nearly $1 million on the bitter 1982 campaign. Two years later, David M. Shell spent about $400,000. In both instances, Hayden demonstrated the ability to outspend and outpoll his GOP opponents.
That factor, coupled with the district's overwhelmingly Democratic registration, has soured many Republicans on the 44th. But Mundell, in announcing his candidacy several months ago, said Hayden is vulnerable.
"From the beginning, I have said that to have a chance of winning, you have to be more than just against Tom Hayden," Mundell said. "You have to develop an independent base of support that crosses party lines."
A political newcomer, Mundell has concentrated on three issues in the primary. He has called for a softening of Santa Monica's rigid rent control law, proposed better programs to deal with the homeless and supported the GOP drive to oust California Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird.
Mundell lives in Santa Monica and is employed as director of business development for Data Resources Inc., a Los Angeles economic forecasting and consulting firm. He also teaches economics part time at Santa Monica College. The GOP contender holds master's degrees in business administration from Columbia University and in international and public affairs.
Mundell said he has raised about $15,000. Most of that money will go to pay for a direct-mail brochure that will be sent to voters shortly before the June 3 primary. Asked to define the differences between himself and Stout, Mundell said he "better articulates" the views of 44th District constituents.
Stout promotes herself as a loyal and experienced GOP worker. She received about 16% of the vote in a 1981 campaign against Los Angeles City Councilman Marvin Braude. She has served on the Los Angeles County Republican Central Committee and considered running against Hayden in 1984.
"The biggest thing that separates us is my record of activism," Stout said of Mundell. "And I think that record has been very helpful."
Stout, who owns Palisades Camera, said she is most concerned about fighting for meaningful legislation in Sacramento. She charged that legislators are too often willing to compromise their ideals to get laws passed. If elected, Stout said she will work for tougher laws on crime, better transportation, education and programs for the homeless.
She expects to raise about $8,000 for the primary. If she can afford it, Stout said she will send a mailer to voters within the next couple of weeks.
"I feel pretty positive about the campaign," Stout said.
The Democratic primary pits Hayden against J. Alex Cota, a Rancho Park businessman who received about 19% of the vote when he ran for the 44th District seat in 1984. The rematch is expected to produce similar results.
Hayden, 46, said he will do most of his campaigning after the primary. He is working on legislation and a statewide petition drive in support of a toxics control initiative.
Hayden (D-Santa Monica) said his goal is to collect more signatures in the 44th District than anywhere else in support of the possible November initiative, which would force officials to issue stronger warnings about toxic hazards throughout California.