The way state Assembly Republicans see it, Assemblyman Pat Nolan (R-Glendale) is really running two races this fall.
One is his re-election to the 41st District, an overwhelmingly affluent, white area where Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 10%. Nolan, a conservative, four-term assemblyman, is considered a sure winner in the Nov. 4 election for that race. His opponents are Democrat John Vollbrecht, an Eagle Rock contractor who ran against him in 1984, and Patricia Bennett, a Glendale teacher and member of the left-wing Peace and Freedom Party.
But Nolan also is running a more uncertain race to maintain his political power in Sacramento as Assembly minority leader, a position he captured in 1984 from Robert W. Naylor, a moderate Republican from Menlo Park.
If Nolan is to retain his position, some of his colleagues say, he must demonstrate his political clout by increasing the GOP's numbers in the Assembly. Republicans now hold 33 of the Assembly's 80 seats. And, as the campaign enters its final weeks, Nolan's friends as well as his foes are lining up to scrutinize his performance and decide his fate.
"I'm as close an ally as Pat has, but obviously we're going to be looking at it real close if we break even or lose a few (seats)," said Assemblyman Frank Hill (R-Whittier).
Besides, Nolan is on the skids with more mainstream Republicans such as Assemblyman Stan Statham (R-Redding), who has accused Nolan of creating dissent within the party by trying to stack the Assembly with right-wing "Nolanistas."
Statham said that, in four primary races in Northern California, GOP Assembly contenders accused Nolan of spending enormous amounts of money to run his own conservative candidates against them in the primary. Two of Nolan's proteges emerged victorious.
"He wasted an incredible amount of money handpicking people who would have loyalties to him," Statham said. As a result, Statham predicted, "Regardless of the outcome of the General Election, Pat Nolan will have problems retaining his post."
For one thing, the other two Republicans who beat Nolan's candidates in the primary, should they win against their Democratic opponents, would not be expected to feel loyalty to Nolan once they get to the Assembly.
In an interview, Nolan responded that Statham is suffering from "sour grapes" because the candidates Nolan said Statham backed in the primary lost. The Glendale assemblyman brushed aside threats of a brewing coup, saying that he expects the Republicans to pick up, not lose, a number of seats next month, partly because of the heavy campaigning and fund-raising he has been doing.
Four committees controlled by Nolan report $1.3 million in receipts for the election of Republicans statewide, and top Nolan aides say another $1 million is promised from GOP incumbents who have easy races.
Most of the $530,000 Nolan has raised for his own campaign will go to support other Republican candidates, said Mike Pottage, director of communications for Assembly Republicans.
Financial disclosure statements show that Nolan has contributed $100,000 to the Assembly Republican Political Action Committee, $12,500 to Richard E. Longshore, who is running in the 72nd Assembly District against Santa Ana Mayor Daniel E. Griset, and $1,000 to Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovitch's abortive race for U. S. Senate, among other Republicans.
Nolan, 36, was elected into office in 1978 as part of a group of hard-line conservative Republicans who swept into office on the heels of Proposition 13, the tax-cut initiative approved that same year. In his successive races, Nolan managed to win the majority of voters in his district, which includes his home base of Glendale, and La Canada Flintridge, Arcadia, Altadena and about half of Pasadena.
Nolan once criticized Gov. George Deukmejian for being too liberal and, years ago, picketed the Ku Klux Klan for espousing what he believed was socialism. After he became minority leader two years ago, some legislators thought that Nolan had become more pragmatic in dealing with Democratic adversaries. But today political allies still call him the leader of the more conservative wing of the state Republican Party.
As for his own district race, "It would be very difficult for me to get beaten. I've worked hard to represent this district and I'm with them philosophically," Nolan said this week.
No Support for Vollbrecht
The Democratic Party, apparently agreeing with this assessment, has given no financial backing to Vollbrecht, the 38-year-old who garnered 27% of the vote when he ran against Nolan in 1984.
Said Vollbrecht: "It's a labor of love. I don't think even our strongest efforts are going to unseat the incumbent."
According to campaign-disclosure statements filed with the Los Angeles County registrar of voters, Vollbrecht raised $3,100 as of Sept. 30, a tiny fraction of Nolan's $530,000.