Management consultant Nathan Rosenberg didn't look much like a rebel when he strode to the microphone dressed in a navy blue blazer, gray flannel slacks and a green striped tie.
It was a hot Saturday morning in Mission Viejo, and at the Cafe Vienna, overlooking the community lake, about 100 Republicans had gathered for a campaign forum.
This was another of those grab-bag affairs of the campaign season--17 Republican candidates, vying for posts ranging from county clerk to U.S. Senate, with five minutes each to explain their views.
Still, Rosenberg attracted more than his share of interest. People seemed eager to hear from the 33-year-old congressional candidate who has defied much of Orange County's Republican establishment to run against a five-term veteran, Rep. Robert E. Badham of Newport Beach.
His audience was alert as Rosenberg, speaking confidently, his blue eyes looking directly at the crowd, touched briefly on his background--four years in real estate, 2 1/2 years as an aide in Washington, the last 10 months in consulting.
"I could put my business background together with my government background" to balance the budget, Rosenberg promised.
Although some in the audience sported baby blue Badham campaign buttons on their lapels, Rosenberg didn't shy from a central theme of his campaign--attacking Badham's performance as a globe-trotting, "do-nothing" congressman. Quoting from the Congressional Quarterly, Rosenberg cited Badham's participation in roll call votes--only 85% in 1985 giving him the "eighth worst" record among all Republicans in the House that year and "the fourth worst" among House Republicans from 1977 to 1985, Rosenberg said.
Sounding a common refrain of his campaign, he added sternly, "If
someone worked for me and failed to show up 15% of the time, I would fire him or her."
It was a typical speech by the brash young candidate from Newport Beach, and it had an impact.
At the door, a woman collecting money for the United Saddleback Republican Women Federated, which sponsored the forum, wrote Rosenberg's name on a pad beside her, adding in large letters beside it, "BALANCED BUDGET!"
To his many supporters, Rosenberg, with his intelligence, his energy and what many people like to describe as his charismatic personality, is an extraordinary candidate, a bright new face in Orange County politics. And with a high-profile, three-month campaign that has included radio ads, district mailers and 300 volunteers, the three-year county resident has given the county's senior congressman his toughest primary battle in 10 years.
In the process, Rosenberg has drawn support from prominent Orange County Republicans and business leaders, such as Caremark President James Sweeney and developers Gus Owen and Gen. William Lyon.
He has also gained backing from Young Republicans around the state and from an unusual network of people around the nation whom Rosenberg knows through "est" or "The Forum"--motivational seminars that he has taught for years. (Rosenberg's oldest brother, is Werner Erhard, nee Jack Rosenberg, who in the 1970s created est--a blend of zen, Scientology and Erhard's own ideas.)
Cathy Ferrar, president of California Young Republicans, called Rosenberg "extremely dynamic. He's a leader, but at the same time he's not autocratic. . . .
"Orange County would be better served by a congressman like Nathan," said Ferrar, who got to know Rosenberg when he was president of the Orange County Young Republicans in 1985. And last week, she persuaded her board of directors to overturn a previous "no endorsement" stance and back Rosenberg.
Owen said that Rosenberg is a "hard-working, well-educated, articulate young man" who would do a more conscientious job than Badham. "I think Nathan has a long future in the Republican Party of Orange County," said Owen, who in 1970 was Southern California campaign director for then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, and who has seen his share of rising political stars.
But to his detractors, Nathan Rosenberg is an opportunist, a man more interested in promoting himself than in working within the Republican Party's ranks.
Badham claims that Rosenberg has been deceptive about his campaign's links to est and that those connections are "sinister"--an effort by Erhard's "cult" to seize a congressional seat for its own purposes. "Who is Nathan Rosenberg? Who sent him here, and where does he get his money?" the congressman has asked repeatedly.
Deny Cult Allegations
Both Rosenberg and a spokesman for Erhard & Associates in San Francisco call Badham's allegations absurd, and they deny that Erhard's firm is a cult or that it has been involved in the campaign.