The prize is the 33rd state Senate District.
But it won't come cheap for those jockeying to replace Sen. Paul Carpenter (D-Cypress), who is resigning early next year to take a seat he won on the state Board of Equalization.
To win Carpenter's seat in a special election may cost $1 million, according to some political observers. Seven candidates have announced they will enter the race, and the scramble for dollars and endorsements is in full swing even though an election date has not been set. Carpenter, who was first elected to the Senate in 1976, plans to leave office Jan. 5, and Gov. George Deukmejian is expected to call a special election soon after for late March or early April.
The race will draw statewide attention, with Senate Republicans looking to build on several impressive victories in November, and Democrats trying to protect their majority in the state's only Senate race next year.
Field Has Firmed Up
In recent weeks, the field has firmed up with Cerritos Mayor Don Knabe, Assemblyman Wayne Grisham (R-Norwalk) and former Hawaiian Gardens Mayor Margaret Vineyard the announced Republican entries. On the Democratic side, retired Municipal Judge Leon Emerson, Norwalk Councilman Cecil N. Green, South Whittier School District board member David Hayes and former Cypress Mayor Otto Lacayo are running.
In a special election, all candidates are listed on a single ballot and voters of any party can vote for any candidate. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, then the top vote-getters from each party compete in a runoff election.
Spending by the Republican hopefuls could be particularly heavy. Both Knabe and Grisham, who was elected last month to a second Assembly term in the 63rd District, have access to large contributors. Knabe, 43, has been endorsed by the influential Lincoln Club of Orange County, a conservative fund-raising group, and he expects to receive financial help from his boss, Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana. Knabe, Dana's top aide, said his goal is to raise $100,000 by the end of the year.
Nearly Upset Carpenter
In two Assembly races, Grisham, 63, has shown he too can attract big money. Two years ago, he raised more than $300,000 to win the seat for the Republicans, and last month in a race against longtime Norwalk Councilman Bob White, he raised nearly $200,000 en route to an easy reelection. Grisham said in an interview this week that he has $50,000 already set aside for a Senate run.
Vineyard, who nearly upset Carpenter and won the 33rd Senate seat two years ago, said her Republican rivals have an edge in the fund-raising department. But she said voters are tired of expensive, high-powered campaigns. She believes that may work in her favor because she does not plan to match her opponents dollar for dollar.
The importance of the race, also has Democrats talking of spending freely. Although Democrats hold a 24-to-15 edge in the state Senate, they lost two seats in the November general election and Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) does not want to lose another.
Roberti and the Democratic caucus in Sacramento recently polled voters in the 33rd Senate District to find out which Democrat has the highest name recognition. The move is seen by many as a signal that the party plans to endorse a candidate in the election and finance that person's campaign with state party funds. Endorsing a candidate, said Roberti spokesman Bob Forsyth, would be a break from tradition, but a necessary move to win the seat.
"The grim reality is such that if we don't get involved early in this race, the Republicans and their big money could win it without going to a runoff," said Forsyth, who declined to discuss the Democrats' voter survey in the district. "This is the only game in town next year and both parties are keenly interested in the race."
Caucus Endorsement Sought
An endorsement by the caucus would be a significant boost to any one of the Democratic challengers hoping to hang on to the seat for the party in a district that spills across two counties. About 75% of the 33rd Senate District is in southeast Los Angeles County, including all or parts of Hawaiian Gardens, Lakewood, Artesia, Cerritos, Bellflower, Norwalk, Downey, Santa Fe Springs and South Whittier. The district also covers Buena Park, La Palma, Cypress and Los Alamitos in northwest Orange County. Voter registration favors the Democrats roughly 54% to 38%.
Even with the edge in voter registration, the Democrats say their biggest problem is the lack of a candidate with districtwide name recognition.