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With a Heavy GOP Edge, Moorhead Stays Low-Key

October 23, 1986|LARRY GORDON | Times Staff Writer

The words were hurled at John G. Simmons as if they were the worst possible slur. "Go to the Westside!" shouted a man, angry that the liberal Democratic candidate with views seemingly more in tune with Santa Monica than with Glendale had the nerve to run in the 22nd Congressional District.

The comment was made at a forum in Glendale last month sponsored by the seven-term Republican incumbent, Carlos J. Moorhead. Simmons had showed up and tried, without success, to get Moorhead to debate. What Simmons got instead was a fairly hostile reaction from the mainly elderly and Republican crowd.

A retired Lutheran minister and former hospital administrator from Burbank, Simmons stayed through the meeting and afterwards engaged in some lively arguments with potential voters. "I'm not ashamed of being a Democrat," he later said. "I'll never throw in the towel."

But, Simmons concedes, the odds of winning the Nov. 4 election are heavily against him in the district, which includes Glendale, La Canada Flintridge, Montrose, parts of Burbank and Pasadena, and stretches of the San Gabriel and Santa Clarita Valleys.

About 56% of the district's registered voters are Republicans, contrasted with the 35% who are Democrats. That breakdown is so discouraging that in 1984 the Democrats could not even find a candidate willing to run against Moorhead, who wound up with 85% of the vote against a Libertarian.

Incumbent Low-Key

Moorhead is a low-key--his opponent says practically invisible--legislator who does not make a lot of headlines. But Moorhead's genial manner and political conservatism have won him loyal constituents and contributors. The congressman has spent about $90,000 so far this year on his campaign and still has $440,000 left, according to official campaign finance reports. Simmons expects to raise and spend about $23,000 by Election Day.

Simmons nevertheless is running an active campaign as an unreconstructed liberal in a time and place when neo-conservatism is popular even among some Democrats. As a result, the race presents voters with a choice between men of different temperaments and philosophies.

Moorhead, a lawyer and former state assemblyman from Glendale, is dean of California's 18-member GOP caucus in Congress. He shuns the spotlight and spends a lot of time in subcommittees on technical issues of patent protection, hydroelectric power and telecommunications.

Of his work in the recent session of Congress, Moorhead said he is most proud of passage of a bill he carried that extends daylight saving time for three weeks in April and of an amendment he wrote to the immigration reform package that would increase the Border Patrol by 50%.

High Conservative Rating

His voting record last year earned a 90% rating from the American Conservative Union and a 5% rating from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action. He rarely votes against President Reagan's wishes. Recent exceptions include Moorhead's traditional votes against foreign aid packages and his opposition to the recently passed tax-reform bill, which the congressman said unfairly limits Individual Retirement Accounts and will lead to higher rents because of cuts on real-estate deductions.

But Moorhead, 64, is not one to shout his opposition to anything. He speaks in a near whisper, and his gentle personality in public reminds people of a kindly high school teacher.

Saying he has no time and it would serve no purpose, Moorhead refuses to debate Simmons. But he handed over the microphone to the challenger for a few minutes when Simmons showed up at what Moorhead said was supposed to be a nonpolitical meeting last month with constituents.

Moorhead even refuses to criticize his opponent. "I very seldom put anyone down," he said.

'Laid-Back, Non-Leader'

Simmons, on the other hand, regularly blasts Moorhead as "a laid-back, non-leader" who "hides in committees that don't mean anything to the general public."

The Democrat is an outspoken, aggressive campaigner who can turn on the sermon-like style of a preacher even though he is retired from the pulpit. His usual theme is that the Reagan Administration is pursuing a dangerous military buildup while abandoning the poor and the elderly.

"The first object of society is how it takes care of people at the dawn of life, at the dusk of life, and the disabled," he says. "People in their middle years can pretty much take care of themselves if given the opportunity. Unfortunately, this Administration believes life begins at conception and ends at birth."

Simmons proposes that the nation rebuild its cities and basic industries with a domestic version of the Marshall Plan--the massive aid program that helped Western Europe recover from the ravages of World War II.

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