In the fast-changing 40th Congressional District race, Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach) said Wednesday he is not a candidate, and a former Newport Beach lawyer who is now a White House counsel announced his intention to run for the seat of retiring Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach).
Ferguson's announcement came as no surprise, since he had indicated earlier in the week that he preferred to stay in the Assembly to play a leadership role in Project '90, the Republican plan to take over the state Legislature before the 1990 reapportionment.
"I have made a pact with my fellow Republicans to see this through to the end," Ferguson said. "And while it may have bolstered my ego to be elected to the Congress of the United States, I couldn't be of much help to Project '90 from three time zones away."
Ferguson said his decision was not affected by a pending investigation of his public relations firm's election activities by the state Fair Political Practices Commission or by reports that the FBI is also looking into allegations against him.
Ferguson said he believes the allegations are politically motivated: "Since I've been up here, I've tried to right what I consider some wrongs, and I've made a good list of enemies. (Being investigated), it's embarrassing. But the alternative, which is to do nothing and not make those enemies, is even worse."
Ferguson said he has still not been contacted by either agency. Orange County Registrar of Voters Donald Tanney has confirmed that FBI agent Gary Morley collected copies of Ferguson's campaign finance reports last week.
Meanwhile, Reagan White House senior associate counsel C. Christopher Cox, 35, indicated Wednesday that he would run in the 40th District, a district so heavily Republican that winning the GOP primary is tantamount to winning the general election.
Badham, who had been widely criticized for absenteeism in Congress and his world travels, announced Jan. 3 that he would not seek a seventh two-year term when his present period in office expires at the end of this year.
Badham's 1986 challenger, Newport Beach business consultant Nathan Rosenberg, 35, and Irvine City Councilman C. David Baker, 34, have already announced their candidacies. Other possible candidates are Supervisor Roger R. Stanton, 50, and Costa Mesa Councilman Peter Buffa, 39, who said he is "in the exploratory mode" for a campaign.
All are Republicans.
Buffa, a TV producer, said he is "pretty well convinced at this point" that he will run.
"I think it's wide open," he said of the race.
State Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), 60, who was considered a sure winner had she chosen to be a candidate, declined to run Monday, opening the race to all comers.
Cox said he would visit Orange County and Sacramento next week, looking for support. A Harvard Law School graduate who was a lawyer with the prestigious Newport Beach law firm of Latham & Watkins until two years ago, Cox said he maintains a residence in the county.
He said that he is getting encouragement from White House officials for a run in Badham's district, and added that in Orange County, "I'm well-connected both in terms of business contacts and political contacts."
Cox, who was a board member of the Orange County Republican Associates while living in Newport Beach, said that because he has not held office before, "It is perhaps to be expected that there are people in that area who do not know me. But I'm taking care of that quickly."
He has hired GOP pollster Arnold Steinberg, fund-raiser Aileen Cline and political consultants Angela (Bay) Buchanan and Jackie Campbell to help his campaign. Buchanan, the sister of former Reagan White House communications director Patrick Buchanan, and Campbell were involved with conservative TV commentator Bruce Herschensohn's U.S. Senate campaign and Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt's presidential exploratory committee.
Cox said he has pledges of about $100,000 for a campaign, adding that he thought he could raise $750,000 if needed--a figure that several GOP insiders said they thought might be optimistic. Cox said he had helped raise money for supply-side economist Arthur Laffer's well-financed U.S. Senate campaign.
County GOP Chairman Thomas A. Fuentes said he had a telephone conversation with Cox on Tuesday in which he told him that "anyone who is considering entry into this race needs to be in the district talking to community and party leaders and not making the decision from the shores of the Potomac."
Cox, speaking of the same conversation, also said Fuentes expressed concern "that we not carve up this race among so many candidates that what we would consider a minor or non-mainstream candidate is elected."
While in the race to stay, Cox said, "I care a great deal about the Republican Party in Orange County, and it's not my objective to run against the party structure."