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Spirited Primary in Sight : GOP Rivals Line Up for Lungren's Seat

February 07, 1988|JEFFREY L. RABIN | Times Staff Writer

A seat isn't open yet, and the race isn't even a certainty, but Republican candidates are lining up in anticipation of the most spirited primary battle for a South Bay congressional seat in a decade.

Prospective GOP candidates are assuming that incumbent Rep. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Long Beach) will win confirmation as state treasurer. If he does not, all bets are off.

Although the outcome of legislative deliberations on Lungren's nomination will not be known until late this month, that hasn't stopped five Republicans from mapping plans to capture Lungren's seat if he is confirmed.

In fact, the decision last week by Assemblyman Gerald N. Felando (R-San Pedro), to drop out of the running in the 42nd congressional district breathed new life and new hope into the candidacies of other Republicans. Felando, a leading contender, cited family reasons for his decision to seek reelection to the Legislature rather than run for Congress.

Wieder Apparent Front-Runner

His sudden departure left Orange County Supervisor Harriett Wieder as the candidate to beat in the sprawling district, which stretches from Torrance around the Palos Verdes Peninsula across a narrow strip of Long Beach and down the coast into northern Orange County.

But Wieder, a veteran Orange County politician, is by no means alone in the race.

Stephen Horn, president of California State University, Long Beach, announced Friday that he will step down this week to actively explore the congressional race.

At the White House, longtime presidential speech writer Dana Rohrabacher, who grew up on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, is planning to come home and enter the contest after Lungren's fate is known.

In Torrance, Andrew Littlefair, a former advance man for President Reagan and assistant to Texas oilman and corporate takeover expert T. Boone Pickens, is plotting his campaign strategy.

And former Palos Verdes Estates Councilman Robert Welbourn says he will enter the race if Lungren gives up the congressional seat he won 10 years ago.

If Lungren overcomes questions about his conservative voting record and political views and wins approval from the Democrat-dominated Legislature, voters in his district can look forward to a fierce Republican primary.

Wieder, 67, chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, a former mayor of Huntington Beach and longtime assistant to former Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, became the front-runner when Felando dropped out of the race.

After a January trip to Washington, Felando said he had decided that commuting to and from the nation's capital would put "a tremendous strain on my family life."

"The conclusion I had to reach was that it wasn't a promotion at all to go back to Washington," Felando said.

At a state Capitol news conference last week, Felando dismissed speculation that he might not really be ruling out a congressional race. "I'm out," he said flatly. "I am out, completely out."

Wieder was elated. "Up to this point, it appeared that Assemblyman Felando and myself were the only two public officials thinking of running," she said. ". . . . Not having him there makes other things, like fund raising, easier."

Wieder has $166,000 in her campaign treasury that she has accumulated as a supervisor, but only one-fourth of it can be used for the congressional race. Federal law limits individual contributions to $1,000 and political action committee donations to $5,000 each.

But Wieder has been busy raising more money that would meet federal guidelines for a race that could cost as much as $500,000.

Rohrabacher, 40, a special assistant to the President in Washington and a former editorial writer for the Orange County Register, has lined up early financial backing from conservative groups. One of those is Reagan's own political action committee, called Citizens for the Republic, which has pledged to support Rohrabacher.

Lou Barnett, political director of Citizens for the Republic, said, "We will fully back him to the maximum extent allowed by law the minute he declares his candidacy."

Rohrabacher, who attended high school on the Palos Verdes Peninsula and recently changed his voting residence from northern Virginia back to the Peninsula, where he is renting a room, plans to run a campaign based on his association with the President.

"My conservative credentials, my Reagan credentials, that's my strongest suit," he said.

Rohrabacher said he has been negotiating with veteran Los Angeles GOP political consultant Allan Hoffenblum to run his campaign. Hoffenblum is also campaign consultant to Felando and had been plotting the assemblyman's congressional bid against Wieder.

But like the others, Rohrabacher cautions that "this isn't a race until it happens."

Lungren has not been confirmed yet as treasurer; in fact, the Assembly has not completed its hearings on Lungren, and the state Senate has yet to begin its examination of the congressman and his record.

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