As the eight men gathered in the sun one day last week for a group photograph, someone joked that they looked like pallbearers.
All in conservative dark gray or blue suits, they made an impressive tableau.
In age, they ranged from 25 to 43. In size, from slight to gigantic. In personality, from folksy to intensely high energy. And on the political spectrum, the men, all Republicans, ranged from moderately conservative to far right.
All share a single goal: They want to be sent to Washington to represent the 40th Congressional District, which stretches from Huntington Beach south to Laguna Beach and 11 miles inland and is one of the most politically conservative areas in the nation.
They had gathered last week for a candidates forum, the second of three within four days. One after the other, they stepped to the lectern at the speaker's table and earnestly made their cases to about 70 Republican members of the Balboa Bay Republican Women, Federated, in their quest to replace Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach). Badham has announced that he will retire at the end of his seventh term.
"I feel like we're part of the 'right stuff' up here," Peer Swan, at 43 the oldest of the group, said when it was his turn to talk.
The deadline for filings is not until March 11, but already there is a high pitch of activity in the campaigns of those who have announced that they are running. The competition for endorsements and money is well under way, and the candidates forums that normally would be expected much closer to the June 7 primary are at full steam.
At the third such forum, before Saddleback Valley Business and Professional Women, the candidates' jokes and stump speeches already had a familiar ring. They had even begun to steal each others' lines.
Irvine Councilman C. David Baker, 34, and Nathan Rosenberg, 35, a Newport Beach businessman and Badham's surprise opponent in the 1986 primary, are considered the front-runners in the race. Baker is expected to announce a package of endorsements this week that is intended to preempt support for Rosenberg. Baker has raised more than $70,000 so far.
Rosenberg is far ahead in fund raising. He says he has raised $400,000 already and has a strong network of campaign volunteers. He also had an early start organizing because he already was preparing to challenge Badham.
But because he was willing to run against a Republican incumbent--something that is frowned upon in the GOP establishment--Rosenberg is viewed as an outsider by party leaders.
The candidates forums make it clear that, in style, Baker and Rosenberg could hardly be more different. The intense Rosenberg takes an intellectual approach, standing ramrod straight. He usually forgoes the use of a microphone.
At one forum, Rosenberg said he was not using the microphone because he did not want to hide from the group. At a later forum, he said it was because of his booming voice. The brother of est founder Werner Erhard, Rosenberg is confident to the point of appearing arrogant at times.
By contrast, Baker, aware that his husky 6-foot-9 frame is intimidating enough, tries to put people at ease. As a result, he comes off as a friendly giant.
"My size makes some people feel real uncomfortable," said Baker, a lawyer. "Nathan's style may work for him, but it wouldn't work for me at all."
While Rosenberg takes a broader sweep on the issues, emphasizing the time he spent as a Navy officer and his work in Washington on the Senate staff of Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), Baker stresses his local roots and experience in Irvine and the county.
Besides Baker and Rosenberg, other candidates appearing at the forums were:
- C. Christopher Cox, 35, former senior assistant White House counsel, who in a soft voice told how his loyalty to President Reagan took him away from Orange County to the Capitol for two years before he was drawn back to run in the 40th District. Cox has the endorsement of former U.S. Court of Appeals Justice Robert H. Bork, Reagan's defeated choice for the U.S. Supreme Court. Bork will appear at a fund-raiser for Cox on March 9. Cox said he has raised $100,000 so far.
- Costa Mesa City Councilman Peter Buffa, 39, who said he wants to go to Washington to help stop the country's slide into mediocrity. His main issues will be education and the economy, he said. An affable man, Buffa is comfortable before groups. He has just begun his fund-raising effort.
- Irvine Ranch Water District director Swan, whose more moderate views on abortion and other subjects often conflicted with the conservatism of most of the rest of the field. Swan, who is worried that Rosenberg and Baker will sew up the endorsements and the money and thus preempt meaningful debate, is viewed as a long shot.