A well-to-do, Korean-born businessman and political unknown says he is seriously considering a 1988 Republican primary challenge to first-term Rep. Elton Gallegly of Simi Valley.
Sang Korman, 50, a Los Angeles real-estate developer who lives in Newbury Park, has retained a Los Angeles political-consulting firm, commissioned a public-opinion poll and recruited a prospective campaign manager.
"I am considering it, but I don't know yet," Korman said. His political consultant, Richard Lichtenstein, said Korman "is moving closer and closer" to running and is expected to announce his decision later this month.
Gallegly, once Simi Valley mayor, succeeded Rep. Bobbi Fiedler last year in the solidly Republican 21st District, which includes eastern Ventura County, part of the north and west San Fernando Valley, Fillmore, Ojai and Santa Catalina Island. Fiedler stepped down to seek a U.S. Senate seat.
"If there is a challenge, we will try to find out as much about the qualifications of the challenger and will address the campaign accordingly," said Gallegly, who also became affluent in the real-estate business. "No one works as hard as I did to get elected to this office and then allows oneself to be put in a position of vulnerability."
Still, some Republican activists said Gallegly could be vulnerable to a high-powered GOP challenge because he has not achieved widespread recognition in the far-flung district and has not raised substantial campaign funds. He had to pay off an $80,000 debt from his 1986 race when he upset Tony Hope, comedian Bob Hope's son, in a hard-fought GOP primary.
But these party activists privately questioned whether Korman, a novice candidate with no political, geographic or ethnic base in the district, could mount a viable campaign. Lichtenstein also acknowledged that Korman, who came to the United States 16 years ago, would have to overcome some ethnic prejudice in a district with a small minority community.
"Name identity in the 21st District has traditionally been a problem," Gallegly said, adding that he made 40 trips back to the district in 1987. "But it's even more difficult for an unknown to gain name ID through a campaign than it is for someone who's been in office for a year."
Lichtenstein, president of Marathon Communications, which generally represents Democrats and is best known for its anti-rent-control campaigns, said Korman would spend $200,000 to $500,000 if he runs. The consultant said it is premature to discuss issues or strategy.
"The research indicates that Elton Gallegly doesn't have much identification as a Congress person," Lichtenstein said. "Sang is a much more energetic, success-type person who wants to put that to work in Congress."
Gallegly, 43, has raised less than $50,000 but has several fund-raisers scheduled, said administrative assistant Mike Sedell. Gallegly said his campaign will spend "whatever is necessary."
Korman, an owner of Goldwell Investors, a commercial real-estate firm, declined to discuss why he is considering a congressional race. Lichtenstein said his client is not ready to talk about his possible candidacy.
To serve in the House of Representatives, the Constitution requires that a person be at least 25 years old and a U.S. citizen for at least seven years. Korman became a citizen in July, 1980, Lichtenstein said.
Lichtenstein said Korman's past political involvement was a $1,000 contribution to the Republican National Committee. Election records show that Korman registered as a Republican in 1984 but has not voted in a primary or general election since then, said Jenny Harrison, a Ventura County election technician.