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Beilenson Makes GOP's Hit List : Republicans Again Covet Liberal Congressman's 23rd District

October 02, 1986|LYNN O'SHAUGHNESSY | Staff Writer

From Bel-Air's gated estates to Malibu's beaches to the San Fernando Valley's exclusive homes south of Ventura Boulevard, the 23rd Congressional District has tantalized Republicans for many years.

When GOP leaders look at the district's demographics, its voting patterns and its congressman--liberal Democratic Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson--they always reach the same conclusion:

The 23rd District could be theirs.

For the second time in three election seasons, Republicans plan to raise generous sums of money to try to wrest the seat from Beilenson, the somewhat maverick intellectual who has represented the area for 10 years.

This year, their investment will be riding on George Woolverton, an affable workers' compensation attorney from Tarzana who is making his first run for public office.

By all accounts, Woolverton, 36, a moderate who used to be a Democrat, has put together a serious high-tech campaign for the Nov. 4 election.

He is getting help from a network of computers and from the fund-raising abilities of GOP bigwigs like former Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. and California's Republican U.S. senator, Pete Wilson.

1 of 2 Targeted Races

The race is one of only two in California in which the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of the House Republicans, has agreed to assist with advice and pay for mailings.

Whether the investment is likely to pay off is a long shot, political observers on both sides agree.

Since he first won the seat in 1976, Beilenson has won reelection every two years with comfortable margins ranging between 20% and 32%.

In the past two elections, his margins have been nearly identical to those of Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City), another liberal Democrat. Berman, part of an influential, Westside-based political organization, enjoys a seat so "safe" that Republicans have never considered making a serious run at him. In 1982, each won 60% of the vote in his district. In 1984, Beilenson got 62% of the vote, and Berman won his race with 63%.

Berman, along with other Democratic insiders, scoffs at the GOP's contention that Beilenson is vulnerable this year.

"They aren't going to come close," Berman said, citing Beilenson's "tremendous base" of people who know and like him within the 23rd District. "That is a very sophisticated district. They know Tony Beilenson."

So why do Republicans salivate every two years?

There are several reasons, including changes in the district, increased GOP registration and the fact that Beilenson does not raise a lot of money or campaign aggressively.

The affluent district is not as liberal as it used to be. When the state's political district boundaries were redrawn after the 1980 census, Beilenson lost many of his loyal Westside supporters. The majority of his old district used to be on the Westside, but now 60% lies in the Valley, which nearly always votes more conservatively.

For example, the state legislators who represent parts of Beilenson's Valley turf include Republican Assemblywomen Cathie Wright of Simi Valley and Marian W. La Follette of Northridge and Republican state Sen. Ed Davis of Valencia. Democrat state Sen. Alan Robbins shares part of the district, but he is a conservative who enjoys wide Republican support. The district also includes part of the base of the Valley's anti-busing movement in the 1970s.

And parts of the district, such as Reseda and Canoga Park, are full of decidedly non-liberal, blue-collar neighborhoods.

Still, the 23rd District cannot be called conservative.

Although President Reagan carried the district in 1980 and 1984, he did so with a somewhat narrower margin than he rolled up nationwide. Reagan got 53% of the vote in the 23rd District; he got 58.8% nationwide. And if the rest of the state had followed the 23rd District's lead in 1982, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley would be governor today and former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. would be a U.S. senator.

Woolverton claims that the district's votes on several statewide ballot measures, including the tax-cutting Proposition 13 of 1978, and a recent polling of the district on such topics as California Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird, taxes and the death penalty indicate that his views more closely match constituents' than do Beilenson's.

Woolverton said his poll showed respondents, like the GOP candidate himself, oppose retention of Bird on the state's high court, would not support a tax increase and favor the death penalty.

Beilenson, on the other hand, has called for certain tax increases, supports Bird and opposes capital punishment.

Most of the time, Beilenson's votes please liberals. In 1984, the American Civil Liberties Union gave Beilenson an 88% approval rating. This year the Consumer Federation of America named him one of its congressional "heroes." In contrast, the more conservative, business-oriented Chamber of Commerce of the United States disagreed with him 62% of the time.

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