SACRAMENTO — Political advisers to Gov. George Deukmejian, faced with a list of no-shows, on Monday canceled a proposed California showcase next month of six Republican presidential candidates.
Only two of the six--Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas and Rep. Jack Kemp of New York--agreed to participate and Dole had second thoughts, said Brian F. Lungren, executive director of Deukmejian's political action committee, Citizens for Common Sense, the sponsoring group.
Lungren said he and others "are deeply disappointed and surprised" by cancellation of the Dec. 19 "candidates forum" at Irvine, in which the contenders would have appeared separately and not in a debate format.
The affair was to have been the premier public event of the Deukmejian committee, which he fashioned last spring to give him an organization from which to speak out on national issues.
Canceling the forum came as something of a blow to the political prestige of Deukmejian, Republican chief executive of the nation's most populous state.
Deukmejian, who gave the nominating speech for Vice President George Bush at the 1984 Republican National Convention and was considered politically close to Bush, flirted last winter with the idea of running for the GOP nomination as a favorite son. He gave it up when sufficient support failed to materialize and threw his effort into organizing his political action group.
Lungren said Bush, the perceived front runner, called Deukmejian last week and said he could not participate. "It is my understanding (that Bush) had a scheduling conflict," Lungren said.
Lungren said the committee then notified other candidates and told them who would participate and who would not. He said the Dole campaign indicated that with Bush out of the program, Dole advisers would reconsider his attendance.
Lungren said former preacher Pat Robertson conditioned his participation on that of Bush. He said that Alexander Haig reported he would not attend because his son will be married Dec. 19 and former Delaware Gov. Pierre S. (Pete) Du Pont IV also ruled himself out.
Bush, meanwhile, is more focused on campaigning in other states than he is on California.
"My understanding of the Bush strategy is they want to wrap up the nomination by Super Tuesday," Lungren said of the March 8 primaries in 20 states, including virtually the entire South. Such a win would render California's June GOP presidential primary essentially meaningless.
He noted, however, that no candidate may emerge from Super Tuesday with the nomination and this could then make California a key state. He said California no longer would be a place where candidates make "quickie" fund-raising appearances and leave to campaign elsewhere.
Lungren said the committee, which worked hard to provide a candidates' forum in the West, would think about sponsoring such an event if California becomes critical in deciding the nomination.
California Democratic leaders last year called on Deukmejian to support moving the presidential primary date from June to much earlier in the year. The idea was to offset the political clout gained by other states, including the Super Tuesday bloc, that vote early in the year.
Privately, some California Republicans also advocated advancing the primary election date. However, Deukmejian rejected the proposal, citing, among other things, increased election costs and his belief that because of its huge population, California would always retain its political clout nationally.
Lungren announced the cancellation in a poem reminiscent of Clement Clarke Moore's "The Night Before Christmas." In part it said:
The governor waited for all to appear,
Yet as the time passed, no one drew near.
They anxiously waited and hoped for the best,
But out of the six only two would come West.
. . . So to George and the others, we'd just like to say,
'You might want to visit California someday.'