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Old Neighbors Square Off in 40th District : Badham Seems Cocky, Secure; Sumner Dons 'Dragon Slayer' Mantle

July 20, 1986|LANIE JONES | Times Political Writer

They once lived in the same neighborhood in Newport Beach. Off and on over the years, they attended the same social events, supped with some of the same friends, even played bridge together.

And years ago, when Bruce W. Sumner, then a Republican, left his Assembly seat to pursue a law practice, his neighbor, Robert E. Badham, was elected to fill his place.

So there is history here--bonds that party differences can't untie-- between Robert E. Badham, 57, now a five-term Republican congressman from Newport Beach, and Sumner, 61, a retired judge and former assemblyman who, after switching parties, has been a Democrat for 15 years, the last two as chairman of Orange County's Democratic Party.

Now they have something else in common: officially, they became antagonists this week in the same political race.

On Thursday, Sumner was certified the Democratic nominee for the 40th District, the formal winner in a long-shot--some had said unwinnable--write-in campaign against Art Hoffmann, a follower of extremist Democrat Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr.

But as hard as the write-in campaign was, with a $53,000 get-out-the-vote campaign, a three-week recount and a legal challenge by Hoffmann at the end, Sumner said his race against Badham might be far more difficult.

For Sumner is taking on a Republican congressman who hasn't lost an election in 24 years and who represents what is considered one of the safest GOP districts in the nation.

In registration alone, it is overwhelmingly Republican: 57.6% to the Democrats' 31.3%. Furthermore, Republican strategists note, even the Democrats are conservative, frequently voting for the Republican ticket.

Still, Sumner and his advisers say that, fresh from his unexpected victory over Hoffmann, Sumner now has assumed the mantle of a "dragon slayer" and might be able to win the congressional seat.

They point out that in the Republican primary, 33-year-old management consultant Nathan Rosenberg received 34% of the vote against Badham. "Voter loyalty is not that strong" in the 40th District, said Keith Glaser, 31, who has lived in the area since December and is Sumner's campaign coordinator. "Something's happening there if 30% of those hard-core Republicans are disenchanted with Badham."

Glaser also said that there is an "X-factor," a tendency of voters, which polls can't always track, to switch to a new, more attractive, activist candidate. After his battle against Hoffmann, Sumner has shown himself to be such a candidate, Glaser said.

Badham and some Republican strategists in Orange County label as hogwash any claims that Badham is vulnerable. For one thing, they say, Badham's Republicans are loyal Republicans.

"I've seen two years of polling data for this race," said Greg Haskin, executive director of the Republican Party of Orange County. "And if Ronald Reagan were a Democrat and he was running against Bob Badham in that race, I don't think even he could beat him. Voters are so local and so dedicated to electing a Republican."

Badham said he wanted to be considerate of his former neighbor and to take "the high road" in the race.

"We've gotten along pretty much every way but politically," Badham said. "Bruce has always conducted himself like a gentleman. I hope we would have a lively campaign based on the issues."

'Beat Everybody'

Still, as he thought more about the race and Sumner's claims of beating him, Badham laughed. "I've beat everybody I've faced. Forever," he said. "I hate to be cynical and philosophical in my old age. They've all tried. And I've run on my record, a long record, an increasingly long record."

Two years ago, for instance, a feisty Democrat and peace activist, Carol Ann Bradford, put together a strong challenge. But helped by the conservative tide that reelected Reagan, Badham got 64% of the vote to her 34%.

Again in the Republican primary this June, Rosenberg, a brash young candidate, defied much of Orange County's Republican establishment to run against Badham. Rosenberg attacked Badham non-stop for his missed House votes, allegedly improper campaign spending and round-the-world trips. But Badham beat him, too, getting 65% of the vote to Rosenberg's 34%.

Cheered by Rosenberg's showing, Sumner and his advisers claim that their timing is right. Other key factors for their optimism, they say, are Sumner's high name identification after his battle with Hoffmann and his 30 years of civic activity in the area. In that time, he has been a Democratic Party chairman, a Superior Court judge and, from 1956 to 1964, a Republican assemblyman from Laguna Beach.

The latter experience still gives Sumner "eyes into the Republican community," Glaser said, even though in 1971, after a bitter loss in a Senate primary race against John Birch Society member John G. Schmitz, he switched parties.

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