With just two weeks to go before the March 17 special election to fill the vacant 33rd state Senate District seat, Gov. George Deukmejian is stepping up his personal campaign on behalf of the candidacy of Assemblyman Wayne Grisham (R-Norwalk).
In seeking to shave the Democratic majority in the Senate, Deukmejian has mailed a letter to voters endorsing Grisham and has solicited funds from major contributors. And on Monday night, he spoke on behalf of Grisham at a fund-raising reception in Long Beach, the governor's hometown. More than $110,000 was raised.
In appealing for Grisham, Deukmejian said, "This is important, very important and we're very anxious to try to make sure we have a victory on March 17."
"In our polls we have found out how extremely popular Gov. Deukmejian is in the district and that's why we want him to be very, very active," Grisham declared.
The conservative, heavily blue-collar 33rd District straddles the Los Angeles-Orange County line.
It is not unusual for Deukmejian to stump for candidates. In the course of last fall's campaign, the governor appeared on behalf of more than two dozen Republican candidates for the Legislature.
But Kevin Brett, the governor's assistant press secretary, said that because the 33rd District contest is a special election--without any other legislative races scheduled at the same time, Deukmejian has a "greater opportunity" to focus his energy on the campaign.
Indeed, in January the governor took a rare step for him by meeting with Grisham and Cerritos Mayor Don Knabe, another major Republican seeking the seat. Afterward, Knabe bowed out of the contest, which provided a major boost to Grisham.
Grisham also expects to get some help from Deukmejian's chief of staff, Steven A. Merksamer, who plans to hold a small, private fund-raiser for Grisham on Friday night in Orange County. Grisham said Deukmejian could not squeeze another appearance into his schedule, so Merksamer took the "unusual" step of agreeing to hold the event for people "who contribute a lot of money."
Brett said that Deukmejian, who represented portions of the 33rd District when he was a state senator, is keenly interested in the election because a Grisham victory "would bring the Republican Party one step closer to gaining a majority in the state Senate."
Democrats have a 23-15 margin over Republicans with one seat held by an independent and one seat vacant. The 33rd District was vacated when Sen. Paul Carpenter (D-Norwalk) resigned to take a seat on the State Board of Equalization.
If none of the eight candidates in the race receives a majority of the votes cast March 17, the top vote-getter from each party will compete in a runoff election May 12.
Registration in the district is 53.8% Democratic to 38% Republican. Even so, Democrats acknowledge that they face an uphill fight because GOP voters historically are more loyal to their candidates and go to the polls in heavier numbers.
Still, Democrats regard the seat with just as much importance as the governor. Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) has endorsed Norwalk City Councilman Cecil N. Green, one of three Democrats seeking the seat. Roberti is supporting Green--with campaign funds and staff--in an effort to bolster his own position and prevent any further erosion in his Democratic majority.
Not to be outdone by the GOP, Green says he plans to bring in big-name Democrats to walk precincts with his volunteers. Green said Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp is expected to campaign for him this weekend.
So far, the most heated incident of the campaign was former Sen. Carpenter's contention last week that Grisham made sexual advances toward Grisham's secretary and then fired the woman after she rebuffed the advances. Grisham has denied the accusation, and Green has said he would not raise it in the campaign.